Q3 2004: The rise of Islamist hacking and criminal syndicates

news alert

London, UK - 20 October 2004, 12:30 GMT - Islamist hacking groups and criminal syndicates have caused more damage to global computer systems in the third quarter of 2004 than in any preceding quarter according to the latest study published by the mi2g Intelligence Unit, the world leader in digital risk.

The phenomenon of Islamist hacking for political purposes did not exist in any significant measure prior to the 9/11 events in 2001, save India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine localised cyber skirmishes. International Islamist hacking accelerated throughout 2002 as did global criminal syndicate activity on the internet to reach a new crescendo immediately after the start of war with Iraq in March 2003. The last one year has seen further increases. The targets have included assets belonging to the US, UK, Australia and other coalition partners on the one hand and within the domestic environments of Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Malaysia and Kuwait on the other.

There is mounting evidence that politically motivated hackers from amongst Islamic countries are collaborating with each other and with criminal syndicates from Russia, Latin America and China. They are devising and implementing new strategies for carrying out simultaneous attacks; subtle reconnaissance and surveillance missions including identity theft; organised crime activities to raise funds through phishing scams, spam and malware proliferation; as well as mount globally noticeable yet untraceable distributed denial of service (DDoS) business interruptions against publicly quoted household name corporations within the financial services, information technology and consumer goods sectors.

The key indicators highlighted by the study published by the mi2g Intelligence Unit are as follows:

1. The economic damage from DDoS attacks in 2004 has crossed $34 billion worldwide. The comparable for 2003 was less than $1bn.

2. The number of phishing scams - elaborate online financial fraud and identity theft - carried out against customers of major brand names in 2004 has crossed 117. The comparable for 2003 was 54; and in 2002 the phenomenon hardly existed. The economic damage from phishing scams is estimated to exceed $44 billion worldwide in 2004. The comparable for 2003 was $14 billion.

3. Spam - unsolicited email messages - volume in 2004 has crossed over 3.3 trillion messages worldwide. The comparable for 2003 was 1.6 trillion messages. The economic damage from spam in 2003 is estimated to have crossed $119 billion worldwide. The comparable for 2003 was $58 billion.

4. Major viruses, worms and trojans - malware - in 2004 have caused upwards of $165 billion in damages worldwide. The comparable for 2003 was $83 billion.

5. The economic damage from all forms of digital risk manifestation - covert attacks, spam, phishing scams, DDoS, major malware, overt attacks - in 2004 has crossed $411 billion worldwide. The comparable figure for 2003 was $215 billion.

"Although the economic damage appears large in absolute terms, when it is divided by the installed base of online computers worldwide which has reached one billion machines, the damage number is modest and does not cross a few hundred dollars per unit,"
said DK Matai, Chairman, mi2g. "The collaboration between radical groups and criminal syndicates is particularly significant because they both feed of each others' agenda to create short term opportunities by benefiting from injuring public confidence, creating misfortune for individuals and corporations as well as accelerating local and global destabilisation forces."

Economic damage is calculated by the mi2g Intelligence Unit on the basis of helpdesk support costs, overtime payments, contingency outsourcing, loss of business, bandwidth clogging, productivity erosion, management time reallocation, cost of recovery and software upgrades. When available, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) violations as well as customer and supplier liability costs have also been included in the estimates.

Full details of the September 2004 report are available as of 1st October 2004 and can be ordered from here. (To view contents sample please click here).

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