Is Your Computer Complicit in Online Extortion?

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We all know about spam, spyware, viruses and phishing. But these pale by comparison with (and indeed are the supporting cast for) the mother of all Internet incursions: extortion of online businesses.

And your computer could be involved.

The L.A. Times this week is reporting that extortion of “protection money” from online businesses is both wide-spread, and far-reaching. Countries involved in one form or another include the United States, Britain, Russia, Latvia, Costa Rica, and Australia, to name a few. Law enforcement officials watching extortionists in Latvia pick up their money drops observed protection monies pouring in from around the world.

Costa Rican business man (awright, so he runs a betting operation) Mickey Richardson was first tapped for $500.00 in protection money or, he was threatened, the extortionists would “bring his online sports betting operation to its knees”. Figuring that the amount was small enough, and the hassle factor large enough, he paid up. But soon they were demanding more, much more. As much as $40,000. And when Richardson didn’t pay up, they made good on their threat, crashing Richardson’s servers just before one of the biggest online betting periods of the season.

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Sources cited in the article say that this is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, after Card Solutions International refused to pay a demanded $10,000 protection money, their servers were brought to a halt by a focused denial of service attack.

According to consultant Barrett Lyon, this all goes back to the viruses and worms launched starting last year. Online extortion gangs now control hundreds of thousands of computers, which are often the PCs which have been made vulnerable to such control by the worms and viruses. And enterprising extortionists are now renting out their stables of remote-controlled personal PCs to do the dirty bidding of others.

Amazing. It used to be that in order to put an honest day’s work in, an extortionist had to make the rounds of the neighborhood, and maybe ice a few squealers. Now they just have to push a few buttons from the comfort of their own basement.

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