The fog of (cyber) war

Cybermilitias, black hat hackers and other non-nation-state bad guys blur the lines on the virtual battlefield.

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Theis cites the infamous Russian Business Network as an example of the cybercriminals highest on the most-wanted list, but he pointed out that it would be difficult to name any organized crime syndicate that's not heavily engaged in electronic crime.

"Traditional organized crime has now moved to cyberspace to commit, support and enhance their crimes," says Ira Winkler, founder and president of Internet Security Advisors Group. These crime syndicates are "performing intelligence and counterintelligence collection of their own to see what governments are doing to stop their efforts."

Moreover, Winkler says, drug cartels, organized crime gangs and terrorist organizations are joining forces to combat the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies. "Possibly most important is that Russian crime gangs are heavily involved with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the distribution of the poppy crops they grow," he says. "They are interested in stopping any coalition efforts to slow down the poppy distribution."

According to Chabinsky, cybercriminals have increased the scope and sophistication of their activities beyond those of all but a few nation-states. "There's big money to be had over the Internet, and organized crime is spending a lot of time and money to enhance their tradecraft," he says. "Organized cybercrime concerns me not just because of the money being stolen, but because cybercriminals are gaining the capacity to harm our critical infrastructure and could be motivated to do so as part of an extortion scheme."

Adding to the complexity of the problem are questions about the preparedness of other countries to combat the threat.

"There is reason to consider whether some nation-states lack the ability to control organized crime within their borders, lack the resources to control criminals who victimize people and businesses outside their borders, or suffer from corruption in which government officials are complicit in lucrative criminal schemes," Chabinsky says.

The hacker myth

Another complicating factor is that these criminal elements are anything but cohesive units with consistent objectives.

"One of the things that's very tricky about cyberspace is you can have criminal organizations easily morph with hacker organizations, and you may have a cell within that that may have a different purpose or objective than the criminal organization," Kurtz explains. "This comes down to the essence of what makes the cybertradecraft so complex. It's only a keystroke difference between getting inside someone's system and shutting it down."

Indeed, the role that hackers play on the cyberwarfare stage is widely underestimated. "I think that a big myth is that cybercrime is still about a 15-year-old kid doing Web defacements," Chabinsky says.

In truth, the hacker element is gaining influence worldwide, and that influence is being targeted by governments. In China, hacker groups have traditionally been motivated by national pride, says Carl Setzer, an associate partner at Dallas-based iSight Partners Inc., a security research firm that monitors hacking communities in China .

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