Ransomware for €100 - how hidden stores are making online crime easier

Ransomware for €100 - how hidden stores are making online crime easier
By Chris Harris
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Buying guns, stolen credit cards or even suicide kits is getting easier as hidden online stores become more sophisticated, it’s been claimed.


Buying guns, stolen credit cards or cyber attack sofware is getting easier as hidden online stores become more sophisticated, it’s been claimed.

Europol says online crime is industrialising, offering would-be criminals Amazon-like marketplaces with product ratings and dedicated customer service.

The one-stop shops, hidden on the dark net, provide a full range of products, from semi-automatic pistols to stolen credit cards and drugs to tutorials on how to be a fraudster.

They also offer ransomware – malicious software used in a global cyber attack on Friday (May 12) – for just 100 euros

Before, aspiring criminals would agree sales in dark net forums.

Now, they use these dark net stores to search out the best seller, pay online via a third party and, in some cases, get the product sent out to them.

Experts says it takes ten minutes to download a specialist browser, setup a Bitcoin account and begin shopping.

How much does it cost to get started?

Wannabe crooks do not need huge amounts of money behind them: stolen credit card numbers can be picked up for as little as 9 euros.

There are also a range of tools needed to commit online crime. For example, it costs less than 100 euros to rent a botnet and infect a network of private computers with malicious software.

This price list, taken from a research paper on the French cyber underground, gives an idea of the some of the products available and their price range.

Cost (€) Semi-automatic pistol 650-1,800 Cashpoint skimmer 800 Suicide kits 500 Tutorial: how to open bank accounts for fraud 450 Mailbox master keys (full set) 220 Ransomware 100 Botnet rental (100-150 bots a day) 95 Fake national ID card 60 Stolen credit card credentials 9-23 Access to compromised Amazon account 10 Cannabis (per gram) 6-15 Source: The French Underground.

How is cyber crime changing?

Europol says it has recently brought down a huge network used to launch mass global malware attacks, which caused an estimated six million euros of damage to German online banking systems alone.


Dark net: The normal internet is the open web, while information accessible through the open web but sitting behind a password-protected interface is the deep web. You need a special browser to access the dark net or dark web, which allows you to surf anonymously.

Ransomware: Malicious software used to block access to a computer until a ransom has been paid.

Botnets: A network of computers infected with malicious software without the user’s knowledge and controlled by cyber criminals.

Money mules Vulnerable individuals who are used to unknowingly transfer illegal funds.

“It was a criminal, multinational organisation that had created this network that other criminals rented to commit all sorts of crimes,” Philipp Amann, head of strategy at Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, told Euronews. “They offered the whole range – for instance having your ransomware developed, having your ransomware delivered, and then using the same company to use money-muling networks to extract your money.

“It was like a one-stop shop. That’s what the development is we see. The systems are becoming more user-friendly.


“For us it’s the industrialisation of cybercrime, they are run like a business now. It’s basically all the tools and services you need to commit cybercrime are available online and this lowers the entry barrier to commit crime online.

“You have some marketplaces, similar to Amazon, a crowd-sourcing functionality where people can rate sellers. If you look at drugs that might give you a fairly good idea of the quality of the product and the success rate of the delivery.

“I wouldn’t not say it is as easy as buying a book. But I would agree it’s becoming more user-friendly and easier to access.”

Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum, told Euronews: “I used to describe cybercrime gangs as entrepreneurial businesses but that has changed – they are now highly complex organisations with sophisticated outreach and product development programmes. They have matured whilst retaining the ability and flexibility that so often disappears with growth.”

Keeping one step ahead of the law

This greater accessibility has seen cybercrime increase and Amann admits it is a huge challenge for Europol and other crime agencies.


Those providing crime-as-a-service to other would-be criminals are also getting more sophisticated at avoiding detection, according to one expert.

“We are facing cyber criminals who getting more and more aware of how they can be tracked, and how law enforcement can catch them,” said Cedric Pernet, who has authored a paper on the French underground market for Trend Micro.

“All the revelations from Edward Snowden for example raised the global paranoïa level for a lot of these cyber criminals.

“They have never used so much encryption, be it for e-mail or for instant messaging.

“At the same time, the marketplaces become more stealthy and easier to use once you’re in. It only takes a few clicks inside a marketplace to buy an illegal good or service, just like you would shop on Amazon for example.”


Your view: Do you have an opinion or story to tell about online crime? Let me know: chris.harris@euronews.com

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