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Web of Crime: Internet Gangs Go Global

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When you think of a computer hacker, who comes to mind? It could be this: a teenage boy, sitting in his parents' basement, turning his attention away from his video game long enough to break into his school's computer network so he can alter his grades before they're officially released.

That image might have been accurate a few years ago, but today the game is changing. In the past, hackers and writers of malicious software (aka malware) were seeking attention and notoriety. Creators of viruses and worms were looking for bragging rights. Now they're after money--and they're finding it.

The transformation in motivation has changed the types of attacks, and it has also altered the profile of the attackers. Teens seeking notoriety may still be involved, but these days the likelier culprit is a hardened criminal in search of financial gain.

And that criminal isn't working alone. Loosely organized groups--which Ken Dunham, director of malicious code at security company IDefense, and other security experts call "Web gangs"--conduct much of the illegal activity online. The structure of Web gangs may be patterned on that of traditional organized crime, in which the members of the group may never come into contact with one another and may never be aware of who they are working for.

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