Debate: The digital Mafia isn’t just hype – it really exists, and it has the power to do real damage

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FOR Pete Simpson, Threatlab manager, Clearswift

The Mafia has always profited from criminal activity, and opportunities exist to extend this into the internet. It offers criminals new opportunities and new victims. Witness the rapid growth of botnets, identity theft and phishing fraud, DDoS-based protection rackets and drugs and pirate software spam. It's only natural that as the Mob moved towards white-collar crime, they would expand onto the internet, spreading information on the web that artificially inflated certain stock prices. Among those involved were members of the various US crime families. The Russian Mafia appears the most dynamic.

According to the NHCTU, much activity can be traced to ex-Soviet states. The NHTCU and their Russian colleagues brought to justice gangsters engaged in DDoS attacks against gambling websites around the world.

Internet anonymity suits criminal gangs. But getting money back to the real world exposes them to detection and arrest. In the case of Russian DDoS attackers, the perpetrators were betrayed by their money trail.

AGAINST Paul Henry Snr, vice president, CyberGuard

While I will agree that organised crime is moving to the internet, I also believe it is being over-hyped. Simply put, while we have seen a few examples of groups of 30 or so people working in an organised manner, we have not seen evidence of massive organised internet crime. In the past, black hat hackers were driven by fame and adulation from their peers. Only now do we see these people stealing and selling credit card databases or controlling botnets attacking gambling sites for money.

These crimes being committed by individuals or at best by small groups in that community and not necessarily by some sinister organised crime outfit. At best, what we are seeing is "disorganised crime."

The autonomy enjoyed by online criminals is also afforded to their potential victims. So, for example, a victim receives an email offering him half of a $10 million payment from some dead oil minister if the victim provides their banking credentials to allow the money to be deposited. The potential victim fearlessly hits the delete key, and the problem goes away.

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