Organized Crime in the 21st Century

Threats & Hacks

For many people, the term “organized crime” conjures images of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, The Godfather. You know, the mafia. The stereotypical Mafioso of the twentieth century was well-dressed, soft-spoken. He demanded respect. His mere presence suggested danger. And even if you took him down, you’d have to deal with the “Family”.

According to MafiaMob.com, any “made” member of the mafia has to swear an oath to 5 principles:
1. A code of silence – Never to “rat out” any mafia member.  Never to divulge any mafia secrets.  Even if they were threatened by torture or death.
2. Complete obedience to the boss – Obey the boss’s orders, no matter what.
3. Assistance – To provide any necessary assistance to any other respected or befriended mafia faction.
4. Vengeance – Any attacks on family members must be avenged. “An attack on one is an attack on all.”
5. Avoid contact with the authorities.

This mythic hierarchical culture of silence is responsible for a powerful bond that keeps law enforcement at a distance. And the model is so profitable that it has been replicated all over the world many times over. Billions if not trillions of dollars have been made through what we call organized crime.

However, the emergence of communications technology has not been kind to mobsters. Surveillance through phones and other bugging devices along with racketeering laws have made crime families less off a domineering force in the twenty-first century, though they still play a significant role in the drug and human trafficking trades.

Many criminals have figured out actually going out and committing crimes in person is a risk not worth taking—especially when we live with world where nearly anyone with a PC and an Internet connection can commit crime from the comfort of home. A In the United States alone more than $559 million in loss (link goes to a PDF) was reported to the FBI in 2009 as the result of cybercrime. And that’s just the amount reported.

While cybercriminals often join online communities and conspire with others, cybercriminals are typically loners. Deb Shinder, a former police officer and current IT professional, has profiled the common characteristics of a person who uses the Internet to break the law:

  • Some measure of technical knowledge (ranging from “script kiddies” who use others’ malicious code to very talented hackers).
  • Disregard for the law or rationalizations about why particular laws are invalid or should not apply to them.
  • High tolerance for risk or need for “thrill factor.”
  • “Control freak” nature, enjoyment in manipulating or “outsmarting” others.
  • A motive for committing the crime – monetary gain, strong emotions, political or religious beliefs, sexual impulses, or even just boredom or the desire for “a little fun.”

Cybercrime, according to Shinder is anything from downloading cracked software to outright fraud. And when it comes to committing fraud, digital crooks are as canny and ruthless as any mobster. But unlike the mafia and hackers, most cybercriminals have no code and little respect for law enforcement.

What was the most common scam of 2009? Imitating the FBI itself. It’s like Al Capone making a fortune posing as Elliot Ness—even if Ness was never as involved with Capone as Hollywood would like us to believe.

It’s never been easier to become part of organized crime. You could buy a “phish kit” and be in “business” in hours. No need to be “made” or even put on your pants. Right now, you can find your way into one of the many hacking communities and start cracking away.

Many digital crimes look legitimate—at first. But when a product you ordered doesn’t show up or fraudulent charges start appearing on your credit card, the result of any theft is the same: loss of money and time.

Here are the most commonly reported cybercrimes in the US for 2009:

There may not be any direct physical intimidation or violence involved, but the psychological harm of having your financial life plundered has real world consequences. That’s why authorities around the world actively track and prosecute cybercriminals, with increasing success.

It’s a new world. Technologically savvy criminals use stolen identities and fake IP addresses to create the code of silence that mobsters once enforced by blood.

Cybercrime is a solitary craft that can be practiced from a flat in Eastern Europe or a cybercafé in Beijing. You don’t need muscle and you don’t need assistance. But if you get caught, you’re just like Al Capone.

You’re going to need a very good lawyer.

Cheers,
Jason

CC image credit: kait jarbeau



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