For the last several days I've been investigating reports on where a lot of our virus and "phishing" problems are coming from. Would you believe, Brazil? Most of Brazil is poor, with an average wage of less than $500 per month. Even so, many Brazilian cities provide free, wireless high-speed connections for those who have access to a computer.
This is a double edge sword. It's great for entrepreneurs interested in starting new Internet businesses, and it allows programmers the opportunity to market there creations, but it also opens the door to individuals who make a living pirating software and music. Even worse, it allows unscrupulous hackers to setup shop stealing passwords and credit card numbers world wide by running elaborate phishing schemes from private apartments able to receive these signals. One reference said that as much as 80 percent of the world's hackers operate from Brazil!
Basically, because Brazil is a third world country, there are few laws governing Internet usage and even fewer people to enforce them. Some of Brazil's laws don't make much sense to us in the United States. Here's what I mean. In Brazil, it's not illegal to break into someone's website, even if it's a business. It only becomes a crime when someone actually steals money while committing the break-in. Even if credit card numbers are stolen, no crime has been committed until they are fraudulently used.
I mentioned phishing earlier. Many of you may not realize what phishing is...but if you've been on the Internet at all, you've probably already been targeted. Phishing, is a practice cyber thieves use in order to get you to give them your bank account, credit card, or social security numbers. It's pronounced "fishing" and that's exactly what they do. The send out bait in the form of an email that looks exactly like it came from your bank, eBay, or Microsoft. They use the correct logos, wording, even the return address (of course, it's not the real return address) looks authentic. When you fill in the information they've requested, it goes directly to the cyber thief who then steals your money.
Because these people work out of places like Brazil, or other countries (India and Russia are also at the top of the list.) where there's little that can be done about it...thousands of US citizens have lost millions of dollars and continue to do so. Setting up a phishing operation isn't hard. There's a "hacker" magazine in Brazil that prints this kind of information on a monthly basis. Over 20,000 copies a month are sold at newsstands. You can also find them on the web. I don't want to give them any free advertising so I won't print a link to their website, but I did download one of their publications entitled "Phishing for Fun and Profit." Scary!
The governments might be trying to get a handle on things, but with all of the other problems happening in the world today, I'm afraid that cybercrime is just not something that's very high on their 'to-do' list. It's going to be up to you to protect yourself. Keep your virus and spyware definitions current and running at all times. Don't click on suspicious Pop-ups. And most important of all, NEVER give out any financial information to anyone asking for it in an email!