Crossing the Crime Chasm

Old-style criminals have met the new online technology, and they're getting along swimmingly



1:30 PM -- In my checkered 20 years or so as an IT industry journalist and analyst, I've had a front-row seat to watch technology revolutionize a whole bunch of traditional, brick-and-mortar industries. It's been fascinating to see old-school businesses like banking, travel, and retail completely re-make themselves with the discovery of new online marketing and customer service avenues.

This week, however, I've had a chance to see that same revolution occurring in a much more disturbing sort of enterprise: crime.

In the last few days, Dark Reading has posted two stories that show how old-school criminals are partnering with new-school black hats to bring fresh life to traditional offenses. In one story, we discussed how thieves are working with bank tellers and other insiders to steal money directly from customer accounts. (See CyberGangs and Thieves: An Unholy Alliance.) In a separate story, a high-ranking SEC official discussed the ways that longtime con artists are now using the Web to defraud unwitting investors. (See Bull Market for Cybercriminals.)

The disturbing part about these stories is not the crimes themselves -- obviously, online identity theft and transaction fraud have been around for years now. What's disturbing is how the online technology has "crossed the chasm" between the early adopters and the mainstream criminal element, and how the two generations are now working closely together.

It's exactly the same trend that I've seen in so many other industries over the years. At first, the only people doing things online are the pioneers, the young bucks that have a vision. Then, after they absorb all the arrows and prove the viability of the technology, established enterprises adopt it and make it a part of everyday business. And pretty soon, the technology is mainstream and everybody's forgotten what life was like before you could do everything online.

That trend has already begun in many walks of crime. We've reported previously that many crime organizations now view identity theft as a line of business, just like illegal gambling, drug sales, and prostitution. (See Stolen Data's Black Market.) Now researchers and law enforcement officials tell us that traditional criminals are partnering with cybercriminals to e-enable age-old vices such as swindling and theft.

That's one chasm that nobody, except maybe the criminals, really wanted to see crossed.

So it's time to face up to a grim reality: Online crime is now an integral part of mainstream crime. Where it was once a novelty, the computer and the Internet are now just tools in the criminal's hand, like a lockpick or a gun. And it may not be too long before people stop separating "computer crime" from other crime, just as "e-business" has been mainstreamed into everyday business.

It's already happened in many industries. I just wish I hadn't seen it happen to this one.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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