Leonardo Castro (Mexico) - Cybercrime: Truth or Myth?

Most of us are aware of the existence of "cybercriminals" in dark places of the world. Moreover, many among us have suffered or know of someone who has been a victim of "cybercriminal activities" such as credit card cloning or mysterious withdrawals of funds. However, due to the covert characteristics of such activities, we tend to behave online as if the threat happens exceptionally or affects only those who are actual cybercrime targets, different from regular people such as ourselves.

We should be more careful. Latin America has become a very active region for cybercriminals. Not only are Latin Americans more exposed to online attacks, but weak government regulations and the wide usage of pirated software (leading to software without updates or support) have taken Latin America to the spotlight as a platform for internet criminal activities.

A snapshot of spam and phishing activities (see image above) in August shows three Latin American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia) among the Top 10 list of spam producers worldwide, accounting for 14.55% of worldwide spam. Contrast this with a combined GDP for the three countries below 4% of global product.

Take the Mexican "Tequila" Botnet (and its offspring, the "Mariachi" Botnet) as examples of this. A Botnet is a collection of thousands of hijacked computers which are controlled by a "bot herder" to perform criminal activities. The "Tequila" Botnet was discovered by TrendLabs® - the threat research network at Trend Micro - by late June 2010. It took advantage of the controversial news about an allegedly missing four-year-old girl in Mexico - Paulette Gebara Farah - who was later found dead in her own bedroom. Cybercriminals crafted messages with a supposed Adobe Flash movie of Paulette's family private life. Readers opening those messages turned their computers into Internet zombies, vulnerable to perform coordinated criminal activities.

TrendLabs' research reports that the Tequila Botnet grew to some 2,000 computers, most of them in Mexico. Such a small Botnet can be rented for around $10 per day for sending Spam messages, fake phishing emails or attacking your competitor' web site through Denial-of-Service techniques.

Some of the world largest Botnets (such as "Mariposa", herded from Spain in early 2010) comprise hundreds or thousands of computers. However, the growingly connected nature of Latin America as well as the favorable conditions for infections mentioned above are taking Latin American-based Botnets to new levels of "competition".

Cybercriminals have discovered that the internet population in Latin America - estimated at around 180 million Internet users - is a fertile ground for their activities. We, as users, should pay close attention to the very real threats that we're exposed to in our offices and homes.

Leonardo Castro Brotto is Director of Marketing at Trend Micro Latin America. Trend Micro Incorporated, a global leader in Internet content security, focusing on securing the exchange of digital information for businesses and consumers. Read more at:



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