Darlene Storm

Help Wanted: cybercrooks hiring in 2011 predicts Fortinet

December 30, 2010 1:28 PM EST

Looking for employment or debating college classes to further your career? Hot job prospects are on the horizon for those with no-to-low ethics. When Fortinet security vendor peered into its crystal ball to make 2011 security predictions, the job outlook for cybercriminals was particularly bright. It seems to me, however, if there is a big call for bad guys, then that need should be exploited by good guys.Image by Don Hankins

One of Fortinet's top five security predictions for 2011 states the cybercriminals will be hanging out Help Wanted signs. People who can break CAPTCHA codes will be in high demand as well as developers who can write and pack customized malware. Quality assurance will have employment opportunities, but in this case it is ensuring anti-detection. Money mules who were busted for wiring funds and cashing checks will need replacements. Fortinet predicts more 64-bit rootkits and innovative attacks that circumvent defenses like ASLR/DEP and sandboxing. There is expected to be a big increase in affiliate cybercrook programs such as those used for the Alureon and Hiloti botnets. Affiliates are commissioned middlemen who are paid to help infect systems on the malware operator's behalf.

Some cybercriminals will continue to "go green" by reusing, renaming, and recycling source code. For those too lazy or without the skills to write their own malware code, source code libraries present "copy and paste" malware opportunities. Fortinet predicts that more cybercriminals will attempt to make money from recycled code. "This trend will create more threat names/variants as they begin to circulate in the wild, which, in turn, will only create further confusion and dilute the meaning of these names. While public source code will continue to create problems on the security landscape, private source code will increase in value as will jobs for adept developers."

See? For every bad guy opportunity, there should also be employment potential for the good guys.

In territorial battles to build the biggest malware empires, criminals are selling "bot killers" to take out other criminal botnet threats that lurk on the same system. He or she with the most and longest control of a system therefore makes the most money. This war for control and cash between cybercrooks will drive up the value of already infected machines and may result in a pay hike for "crime services" like bot rentals. Instead of running the botnets themselves, these jobs will likely be farmed out to middlemen aka affiliates. Malware operators may crank down quality assurance services that would otherwise protect a PC or business during the leased infection process time. Fortinet also predicts that once the lease is up, the malware would "clean up after itself, reducing the amount of load/threats on a single machine."

Cybercriminals turning on each other and fighting to take the competition out of the game sounds promising. And with all these cyberthug employment opportunities on the horizon, couldn't that create openings to be infiltrated by white hat spies?

In 2010, we saw countries working together in takedowns of botnets and syndicate busts. Like annoying weeds, though, if you pluck out one then two more spring up. Fortinet said global collaboration affected only the most visible violators, causing a temporary impact, but the efforts of various countries working together foreshadows things to come. "In 2011, we predict authorities will consolidate global collaborative efforts and partner with security task forces to shut down cyber criminal operations that are growing in number," Fortinet wrote.

The 2011 security forecast is only as bleak as your point of view. Yes, there seems to be employment needs for more cybercriminals but that means there are also hot prospects for white hat security. As that trickles down to regular users, it may also mean increased potential for technicians to make money cleaning up computers for owners and users who either don't care or don't have a clue. If you are the designated "free family 24/7 tech support" -- well then, I'm sorry to hear that as 2011 may just present more of the same.

Happy New Year!