The “New Mafia” Takes Crime Online

The criminal world has gone digital. Crime syndicates are sinking their dirty teeth into cybercrime and today it is the fastest growing criminal activity on earth.

Trillions of Dollars are at Stake

Accenture, considered one of the world’s top companies, numbers digital and technology consulting in its stable of services. The firm predicts businesses will lose US$5.2 trillion to cybercrime globally over the next five years.

Cue the mafia and other nefarious organizations. Cyberattacks cost businesses from large to small on average $200,000 annually, according to Hiscock, a commercial liability insurance company. And the little guy is the easiest target.

Most Businesses Woefully Unprepared for Cyberattacks

Small businesses account for almost half of online attacks – 43 percent – but they are woefully unprepared to stave off breaches because only 14 percent have the technology shield to counter the assaults.

“Modern IT infrastructures are more complex and sophisticated than ever and the amount of virtual ground that we’ve got to safeguard has also grown exponentially,” said Jesse Rothstein of security provider ExtraHop. “…(C)yber criminals can launch thousands of digital attacks designed to compromise our operations at every turn, only one of which ever needs to connect to cause serious disruptions.”

But while large companies are the prime organized crime targets, individuals do not escape notice and while the coronavirus pandemic is a plague to most, to syndicates like the mafia it is a blessing, presenting an opportunity to defraud. From March to May in Canada this year, organized crime swindled individuals out of CAN$1.9 million.

The most common method of bilking people is through email or text messages where the recipient clicks on a link to collect the $2,000 a month the federal government offers to those who have lost jobs to the pandemic. The link takes individuals to a phony website asking for financial information, or it could allow the intrusion of malware that can steal, encrypt, delete or hijack data, leading to financial theft.

Cosa Nostra Goes Online

Italy has had its share of cybercrime courtesy of the world’s most infamous crime syndicate.

In May of this year, 91 suspected mobsters were collared by police probing money-laundering and extortion. Authorities were attempting to stop Sicily’s Cosa Nostra from bilking people who were suffering financially due to the coronavirus.

In one conversation recorded by police, a man said “look, we pay cash” for businesses hard hit by the pandemic. The mob was trying to buy legitimate businesses at bargain basement prices so as to illegally launder dirty money gleaned from extortion and drug trafficking.

Gangs also hold businesses for ransom – hence the name ransomware, a malicious software that infects a computer and restricts access until money is paid to unlock it.

In Israel, the chip wear maker Tower – the computer chip used for processors, memory and other information functions – came under ransomware attack and had to shut down some production systems and its IT systems were damaged, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in August. A publicly-traded company with second-quarter earnings of US$310 million, one day of lost work would cost the company an estimated $3.4 million.

Hackers demanded money and Tower’s insurance company said pay up.

Insurance Company Advises Firm To Pay Ransom

“Its insurance company encouraged paying the ransom, which is estimated at several million dollars,” Einat Meyron, who advises companies on cybersecurity and is well acquainted with this attack, as reported by Haaretz. “It definitely wasn’t $250,000, as has been reported in several places.”

The mafia is becoming so pervasive in cyber crime that its involvement is now known as the “New Mafia.” The mafia has hired cybersmart engineers to hack and uncover where shipments of specific goods are being readied for shipment, then sends in drivers in their own trucks to haul the goods away.

The Internet is also used to help facilitate and plan various crime operations.

Brazilian Gangsters Running Drug Networks from Jail Cell Computers

In Brazil, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), Sao Paulo’s mafia corporation is using smart phones so members of its council can call the shots from their prison cells. Sao Paulo prosecutors seized two laptops of senior syndicate members and discovered Excel spreadsheets showing the entire cocaine distribution network for the metropolitan area.

Included was the identity of those marked for punishment – and sometimes death – due to embezzlement or not fulfilling their promised participation in crime.

An Expanding Crime Network

In 2018, 30,000 people were members of the PCC and new recruits were joining each day, reported, a respected American-based management consulting firm with 50 offices in 39 countries. The PCC is spreading to other South American countries.

Perhaps Malwarebytes, the ubiquitous anti-virus Internet security company, best sums up today’s evolving criminal use of the internet. “What was once the reserve of hobbyists and enterprising individuals has taken a more sinister turn as the world has become more interconnected.

“In the last decade, cybercrime has evolved from computer viruses that commandeered a select number of PCs to spectacular security breaches and cyberattacks that exceed the imagination. The Internet has allowed criminals to send tentacles out all over the world while sitting in comfort thousands of miles away. A new day has dawned for organized crime.