Yahoo is currently running a Reuters article claiming that cybercrime generated more illegal revenue than drug trafficking in 2004 and shows no sign of slowing down.
The article quotes Valerie McNiven, a US Treasury adviser, as saying, “Last year was the first year that proceeds from cybercrime were greater than proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs, and that was, I believe, over $105 billion.”
As anyone who’s spent any time in the online world can tell, there are plenty of avenues for shady people to make money at the expense of others. The obvious sources include spam emails for less than reputable products, but there’s also profit to be made in compromising the computers of unsuspecting owners in order to track online movement to sell to underhanded marketers, display unwanted advertisements, or even use those machines as spam relay points to send out millions of emails on behalf of the spammers.
Phishing, the term given to attempts to trick people into giving criminals sensitive information such as passwords or credit card info, is also generating billions of dollars of illegal revenue. If you ask around, just about everyone you know with an email account has probably gotten a fraudulent email claiming to be from eBay, Paypal or numerous banks asking for passwords and the like.
As always, we live in a “buyer beware” world. Always be wary of clicking on links in emails claiming to be from companies and avoid opening any attachments added to emails claiming to be from your internet service provider. If you think the company in question is legitimate, you can always close that email and log in directly through their website in your web browser, to prevent being sent to a false website.
And as always, make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware protection. My personal recommendation is a combination of Trend Micro’s PC-Cilin and Webroot’s Spysweeper, both of which are available in most retail stores near you.