Cybercrime: Still growing up bad, and I blame the parents

Editor's Notebook: Online crime is maturing, but not going straight

Cybercrime is maturing, but that could means less flashy but more dangerous scams are on the way, says editor Steve Ranger.

It's been a long and difficult childhood, but cybercrime is beginning to grow up. The bad news is that going straight isn't part of the plan.

Cybercrime is getting older and wiser but no less malicious. While malware writers and hackers are growing out of digital vandalism, they are instead concentrating on less high-profile, but much more lucrative, targets.

On the plus side, the days of massive virus outbreaks such as Melissa and LoveBug are probably over. That's largely because in the past being the author of such a widespread piece of malware would have been a badge of honour, but now such publicity simply means unwanted attention from the authorities. The professionals are now focused on making money, not building script kiddie reputations.

Virus writers grow up

Cybercriminals are becoming more mature, but they're not going straight
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

In its mature form, cybercrime is much more subtle than it used to be, argues Stefan Tanase, senior security researcher at Russian security company Kaspersky Lab, whose headquarters in Moscow I visited recently.

"The days of really big outbreaks are over because cybercriminals want to keep under the radar, so no criminal will want to control an eight to 10 million infected computer botnet," he told me.

Online vandalism
There will of course always be low-level cybercrime and website defacements - the electronic equivalent of spraying graffiti on the town hall - so don't think that you can switch off your antivirus tomorrow.

But at the high end, serious criminals are now working on sophisticated corporate and sometimes state-sponsored espionage, targeting their victims carefully to steal specific information.

The information we post online about ourselves is making that job easier for them, Tanase argues. "Social media makes the reconnaissance part much easier because...