Letter from the eastern front

When it comes to laying the blame for malicious code, viruses, scams and spam, IT security vendors love to point the accusatory finger to what used to be known as the Eastern Bloc. Yet for every throwaway accusation, few attempt to justify such claims with hard statistics – let alone a response from those inside Russia.

Recently Computerworld received an interesting response from those at the frontline of studying cybercrime in the East, courtesy of Dr Vladimir Golubev, founder and director of the Ukraine based Computer Crime Research Centre (CCRC), and independent think tank. Apart from CCRC Golubev is lecturing in cybercrime at the Department Of Criminal Law And Justice at Zaporozhye State University.

Recently CCRC made the controversial assessment that banks and financial institutions were losing more cash to cyber-related fraud and scams than they had ever traditionally lost through more conventional means. CCRC reasoned that the losses incurred by such activity are in actuality being hushed up.

"[The] scale of losses in the banking sphere are not registered in official statistics. And defrauded victims more often even do not suspect that they [have been] robbed. Experts regard criminal [theft to be] fourfold greater with the help of computers than in cases of armed robberies of banks in the US. For the last decade annual losses have increased more than 20 times and come to tens of billions of US dollars," CCRC wrote.

Asked if the East's reputation as a haven for e-crooks and spammers was deserved, Golubev said "I do not agree with such statements, I think they are not true," adding that although Eastern Bloc governments had come to understand many cybercrime issues, they were yet to legislate for them.

According to Golubev, apart from countries such as Nigeria and Russia, the US still remains a heavy purveyor of spam.

While the West may be besieged with offers of college degrees and cheap loans, CCRC says the world of spam is dominated by sex and drugs.

"First place 42.6 percent is ads for pills and other medicinal [offers]. Second place is for a separate item - Viagra at 22 percent. Third place is advertisements of different porn sources and accessories," Golubev said.

Asked if he thought laws such as Australia's new Spam Act would make a difference in the international scheme of things, Golubev offered qualified optimism.

"The problem of fighting spam cannot be solved without international cooperation. I think that such agreements between countries will be a resulting role of fighting spam. If spammers' activity will grow the same rates, I think, it will be difficult to use e-mail for most Internet users in about six to 12 months. There is an approach to spam as a social and anti-public phenomenon in Ukraine and Russia."

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