All Hail the (Malicious) Human Brain

I am forever amazed at the creativity of human beings. Look at all the companies we have produced. The trillions of dollars of wealth we have created. It is amazing that our combined genius has dramatically raised the standard of living worldwide over the last 100 years. We should be proud.

But any tool can be used for good as well as bad and the human brain has also been incredible in its ability to perpetrate crimes. In my early computer classes I was amazed to learn of a computer crime which involved bank programmers who were skimming non-rounded interest into a separate account. In other words taking the fraction of a cent of interest that didn’t get added to bank accounts and diverting them to another account which the programmers owned.

In the above case the programmers were foiled when the computer system went down and manual systems had to be used. An account with millions of dollars was found as a result.

It seems other early computer crimes like hacking a password files on a UNIX systems to insert a malicious program made famous by the book Cookoo’s Egg are now quaint in comparison to the varied computer crimes of today.

Let’s explore some recent areas where the human mind has been used to either bend or break the law.

Craigslist Spammers

Yesterday at the CBX 2009 event I heard about a person who was looking to buy phone numbers for the express purpose of using them as phone verified accounts allowing the posting of ads on Craigslist. Basically the person wanted a short-term lease on these phone numbers which they use to circumvent the Craigslist security procedure of reducing listing spam.

Fake News Spammers

Then there is the problem of companies putting up fake news pages to scam people into believing they are reading real sites. At this point they run an article which highlights their own company via a case study. A headline like “Learn How This Housewife Made Tens of Thousands of Dollars Working from Home” is used. In one example readers who signed up for the products which these fake news sites promote have their credit cards charged $80/month for what was supposed to be a $2 one-time expense.

While this idea may not be new, what seems to be on the rise is the fact that these fake news sites are advertising on real news sites.

Search Engine Click-Fraud

You may be aware of click-fraud where entire global networks of people are paid to click on search-engine ads or programs are designed to do the clicking to boost revenue received from advertisers. The sad part is this is a crime where the search engine actually profits and click fraud amounts have hovered between 10-35% for many years depending on the research source you use.

There are also millions of spam sites which fool users into clicking on ads disguised as content. Then there is the problem of competitors clicking on the ads of one another to drive up the marketing cost of the respective competitor.

Social Network Click Fraud

Now the latest trend in the world of click fraud is targeted at Facebook where malicious users create thousands of Facebook accounts (you can hire companies to get these for you at 10 cents per account). The example in this article cites India as a place where such companies exist and coincidentally this is the same country where the Craigslist scam discussed above originated from.

With the global economy being in the toughest shape it has been in for many years and the proliferation of internet connectivity there has never been more opportunity for the human brain to come up with money-making schemes which either bend the rules or break the law.

This of course drives up the cost for everyone else and sadly in many cases means people who aren’t aware of the pitfalls on the web are duped out of their money.

In order to help reduce these problems we need much tougher international laws policing malicious users. It is so easy to perpetrate a crime against a person in a different country while remaining anonymous. We need to really have stricter laws in every country and serious enforcement must take place when people are caught. Let’s set better examples of the malicious users who are caught so the next scammer or spammer thinks twice before going out and committing that computer crime.

While I do admire the ingenuity of the human brain, it is time for law enforcement to step it up so these users can be locked away forever. Where do we put them all? Well, from what I hear, there should be some space opening up in Guantanamo Bay very soon.

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