Tuesday, May 24, 2011
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Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde
Had we published GCFlash yesterday, May 23rd, our day in history would have been the 1934 death of Bonnie and Clyde. Just reading that fact got my cyber-gears turning.
The Depression-era spurred a wave of gangster activity. The country had just lost 38 percent of its wealth. There were no jobs, foreclosures were rampant. Soup kitchens overflowed.
Capitalism and government officials took the blame. The people revolted. (Starting to sound familiar?) Many took to a life of crime.
John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Faced Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly terrorized towns with their crime sprees. But perhaps none became quite as famous as a young Texas couple called Bonnie and Clyde.
Over their two-year rampage, the couple left a reported 13 people dead in the process of stealing over $15,000. That's equal to $250,000 today when adjusted for inflation.
Not all of that was in cash. While they did pull off about a dozen bank robberies, hit several small stores and gas stations, they also got away with some turkeys and a few cars whose value is included in their heist total.
They didn't have long to bask in their fame and fortune. The duo was gunned down at the ripe old age of 24.
All that drama over a quarter of a million dollars. Today, that would gain you a stern lecture from a judge. Maybe a slap on the hand and 30 days of community service at best.
Today's criminals have it much easier. They work from cyber cafes and hide in the anonymity of the Internet. They can steal a quarter of a million dollars before finishing their first cup of coffee. Without leaving a path of dead bodies.
This has been a banner year for the bad guys. Computer viruses are yesterday's news. Cyber crooks are now looking at bigger fish to catch, and they like what they see.
The Sony breach is one of the largest in history. Customer data stolen from more than 100 million PlayStation subscribers has the game site shut down. The company reports breach damages have reached $171 million and climbing. Couple with losses from the massive earthquake in Japan, the company announced it expects a loss of $3.2 billion this year.
There was the Epsilon incident where customer email addresses were stolen from the company that manages mailing lists for most every major corporate client in America. We're talking JPMorgan Chase, TiVo, BJs, Capital One and Best Buy to drop just a few names.
Michaels craft store chain found PIN devices had been tampered with at locations across 20 states.
Even security firm RSA found themselves a victim. They've remained quiet about the episode, but early reports suggest an employee may have opened a malicious email that infiltrated their system.
Consumers have gotten savvy about protecting their sensitive data. But many companies are still under the illusion that compromised data is something that happens to somebody else. They may keep firewalls configured to the highest settings, block employee Internet access or keep key systems updates current and think they're in good shape.
But unless employee training is part of their efforts, they're leaving the biggest hole unplugged. Quite often threats are unleashed by someone unaware they're doing so.
Flash drives are known virus carriers. Suspect anyone offering you a free flash drive. Plug one into your PC, whether it be at home or work, and you're asking for trouble. You're pretty safe if you buy one at Office Depot or other reputable business supply store. But if it's given away as a promotion or bought at a dollar store, there's no way to assure safety.
Even the most official-looking email could be a scam. The Oklahoma Tax Commission web site was compromised by an employee who thought he was accepting an Adobe end-user license agreement.
Unless you are expecting an attachment from a business associate, best to leave them unopened.
Some people have a natural mistrust of others. But won't hesitate to click on anything that comes across the Internet. I can't figure this one out, as you can look another human in the eye to get a feel for their sincerity. You can't do that virtually. A good rule of thumb here is to trust nothing.
When in doubt, and that should be always, contact someone in your IT department to investigate any file before you open it. They may whine about how busy they are or how you interrupted a huge project they were in the middle of. Merely remind them of the project they face if you unknowingly unleash a Trojan into the company system. They'll thank you for being a pest.
The travel brochures display breathtaking scenery; medieval buildings nestled in a quaint valley, snowcapped peaks of the Transylvania Alps, beachgoers wading in the crystal blue waters of the Black Sea.
Romania is one of Eastern Europe's most popular tourist destinations. It's also the cybercrime capital of the world.
Until 2003, the country had no cybercrime law on its books. It became a haven for hackers. Its reputation was so bad that Romania struggled to gain acceptance into the European Union.
The law eventually passed was one of the strictest in the world. After an initial decline in criminal activity, it returned to the infamous position that gained their nickname - Hackerville.
Their late dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, saw computers as a way to promote the Soviet agenda. Romanians were too poor to buy licensed software, so began piracy.
The country struggled to build an independent identity after decades of Soviet rule. Jobs were scarce, the people were poor. Cybercrime became a way of life.
Crimes range from petty fake eBay ads to sophisticated, organized malware attacks on banks.
The February 2011 issue of Wired magazine features an astounding article on why scammers in Romania are so successful. Writer Yudhijit Bhattacharjee visited with two law enforcement officials in the city of Râmnicu Vâlcea, the epicenter of cybercriminal activity.
In order to avoid prosecution, these scammers set their sites outside of their own country where it would be more difficult to trace. The United States is their largest target.
As the number of fraud complaints rose in the U.S., FBI agents began tracking international money transfers. They found nearly $10 million wired to one town - Râmnicu Vâlcea - in 2005.
These folks are good. Once a particular method has been uncovered, they quickly adjust to new ploys.
Stories used to con continue to get more believable. Native English speakers are hired to draft convincing emails.
As intended victims became wary of sending money to Romania, the scammers drafted accomplices in Western Europe and the United States to act as money mules. They would receive funds from a local wire-transfer office and transmit all but their commission as agreed upon. They were now operating on a global scale.
Bhattacharjee learned that cyberfraud operates like a family business in Râmnicu Vâlcea. Friends or family members are more likely to have the resources and skills to ply the trade.
Law enforcement officials are having a hard time putting an end to this problem. Even with 188 related arrests in Romania in 2010, prosecution is difficult. The anonymity of the web gives an edge to the suspects. And the public doesn't view their activity as criminal since they're only ripping off Americans.
One of the cops being interviewed for the Wired article told Bhattacharjee, "You arrest two of them and 20 new ones take their place." There just aren't enough police to do the job properly.
Gas prices fell the most in one week since 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nationally, the average fell 11.1 cents to $3.849 for a gallon of regular fuel. It was the biggest fall since prices sank 11.2 cents to a national average of $1.699 in December 2008. A year ago, the national average was $2.786 a gallon. Prices are generally higher on the west coast with the lowest prices on the East and Gulf coasts. The price in the Lower Atlantic portion of the East Coast dropped .109 to $3.784 a gallon for gasoline last week. A year ago, the same region averaged $2.748 a gallon.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service predicting average gasoline prices around $3.50 a gallon. He added that this lends credence to the big jump in September last year arising from Wall Street speculation.
Regardless, a drop in time for Memorial Day and summer time events is welcome!
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