Financial means

Just like our government, organized crime groups generate large amounts of revenue, using sophisticated methods of generating revenue. To the general public they seem to be portrayed as being uneducated, approaching opposition using physical force, or lacking a focused plan and long-term vision. In fact, it seems now to have become the opposite – here is an instance where they wrote a software application to help them [Source: Security Intelligence].  And they have been in silence and without announcement, growing their power and wealth, in Canada for years now.

Most people are unaware that organized crime takes Billions of dollars from our economies; and therefore has an “unlimited” amount of money to spend on research and development into any types of weapons and technologies that can be used to their advantage [Source: Fortune.com]. While true that governments also collect revenue, they do have to pay for the supporting of the infrastructure provided to their citizens – organized crime does not. Therefore, organized crime has more money to spend on Research and Development than governments do!

Organized crime can also gain details of any government research (including classified) through acts of espionage and bribery.  They can also steal it (perhaps via the Internet), or purchase it from other organized crime groups or Nation States. And we must remember that organized crime partners with terrorists, leveraging each others capabilities in revenue generating activities, and thus sharing in the profits of their activities [Source: AWD News].  They can also obtain funding from a competing Nation State that, for varying reasons, is sympathetic to them – in fact Qatar and Saudi Arabia have both been accused of funding terrorists [Source: MSNBC, MSNBC 911 Lawsuit, MSNBC Qatar].

Ethics

While our governments are generally tied to ethical boundaries and human rights, organized crime is not – enabling them to perform research bringing physical or mental harm to individuals.  Test subjects need not be difficult to source – in India they found a hospital where babies were being bought, sold, and swapped [Source: Metro, RT, News.Com.AU].  And in more public places, such as a tourist town in Southern Mexico, where twenty-three children were rescued after being abducted and forced to sell handicrafts. According to official statements, the children’s age ranged between three months and 15 years, had been abducted from their families and were forced to work selling handicrafts under threat of “physical and psychological violence”. Unrestricted and unethical experimentation could occur leading to advancements at rates faster than an ethically challenged setting could ever achieve.

So then what are they researching?

Well, our military and governments are making weapons like this:

  • the CIA’s Secret Heart Attack Gun, which fires a dart fully made of a poison that causes an heart attack.  It cannot be detected during a autopsy, can penetrate clothing, and only leaves a tiny red dot on the skin [Source: Military.com, CIA]
  • The US Military is currently researching “Silent Talk” for the battlefield [Source: Wired, Army Technology]
  • Directed Energy Weapons, which were used in the Iraq war [Source: Wikipedia]
  • CNN Report back in 1985 on Directed Energy Weapons

Recent news articles point to “sonic weapons” that induce illness, make it difficult to concentrate, cause a loss of hearing, difficult to speak, and even cause mild brain damage – with the most publicly mentioned were the 21 American Diplomats in Cuba and China [Source: 60 Minutes, Independent, CNN, New Scientist, The Times, Popular Mechanics, DR DK News, {translated}, Business Insider, South China Morning Post, The Guardian, News Week, CNN, Associated Press, Daily Caller, Fox 13, Foreign Policy, Miami Herald].  And notice that this technology goes back to 1953, where it was found that the Russians subjected Diplomats to Microwave attacks for over 20 years [Source: Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, CIA Archives, US National Library of Medicine, LA Times, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Foreign Policy].

So, if this is what ‘we’ are making – then what type of research could ‘they’ be making?  While smaller picture things come to my mind, like hacking ATM’s to push out money for money mules to pickup at 3am at various branches, I like to think of larger, more intelligent things that would help them to quietly penetrate more lucrative markets, such as technologies enabling them to have greater influence over people, eavesdrop, and have the ability to communicate ‘silently’.

How they use the Internet

On June 15, 2016 NATO officially declared cyber-space a war zone [Source: New Scientist].  The cyber-security landscape is heading in the wrong direction, criminals are becoming more aggressive, more sophisticated, and effective [Source: CIO Magazine]. We all are aware that other countries also hack our systems to steal our Intellectual Property, having a negative effect on our economic health (loss of revenue, customer trust, policing, monitoring, availability / reliability, and costs to investigate / remedy / rebuild trust). Organized crime is also using the Internet to store and launder money, and hack into sensitive locations for illegal gains. 

Organized Crime is using the “Dark Web” (Deep Web), for profit, co-ordination efforts, propaganda, recruitment, providing of cell phone applications, and communications.  Here is a good article, published by Europol, describing overall usage (here). Europol published a document in 2014 and 2015 advising of the threats posed by organized crime groups on the Internet, with some of their activities being: crime as a service, malware, online child sexual exploitation, payment fraud, online criminal finances, crimes relating to social engineering, data breaches, and network intrusions [Source: Europol 2014, Europol 2015]. With organized crime partnering with terrorists, we should not be surprised to learn that terrorist are also using the Internet for those same reasons, and also for: intimidation, coordination, secure communications, remote drone piloting, reassurance, choreographed video’s and mass executions, civic forum boards and battlefield drones, documentaries, press releases, propaganda, online magazines, and targeted enlistment [Source: Aljezeera, Twitter, Defense News].

Some of the Internet technologies used are: [Source: Gizmodo, Popsci, Huffington Post]

  • TOR and Opera (Internet browsing).
  • Hushmail (encrypted e-mail communications).
  • CyberGhost VPN (access VPNs).
  • Locker (deletes files on mobile device after pass code retry count exceeded).
  • FAKE GPS, (users can choose a false location).
  • Telegram, Skype, Silent Circle, Kik, and WhatsApp (for communications and selling slaves).
  • ISIS uses Hashtags and Hashtag hijacking.
  • Twitter bot armies.
  • Radio station apps (created by people inside ISIS to spread propaganda).

Some solutions were made to be available on Android devices [Source: Security Affairs, PC Mag, CTV News]. Oddly, only for combating terrorist activities, a US Military research institution called, “Darpa“, modified their Memex application to help in the fight [Source: Defense Tech]. I wonder why this can not be used against organized crime?

Vulnerability

How vulnerable are we? Well, it is super easy to hack nowadays – it is taught on-line [Source: Academy E-Hacking Net].  Cyber crime is behind the greatest illicit transfer of wealth in history [Source: Reuters]. Meanwhile, both the Canadian and Indian governments have fallen far behind the rest of the world in their fight against cyber crimes [Source: CBC News, Times of India].

Our economic, government, military, and education infrastructures are subject to attack from Organized Crime, Nation States, and Terrorists on a daily basis.  For years, the US National Security Administration had been branded as having superior hacking skill sets and having access to tons of hacking tools.  But in 2016 their website was hacked, exposing vulnerabilities in their public facing architecture [Source: Fox News]. Here are, what I would believe, to be some of the more vulnerable targets that could be exploited:

  • It is suspected that the US Nuclear Submarine Fleet could be subject to attacks [Source: Homeland Security Newswire].
  • ISIS had hacked security cameras around the globe and was able to watch live footage [Source: Security Affairs].
  • Our public protection systems are vulnerable – a 911 Call Center was taken down by zombied cell phones calling 911 [Source: Broader Perspectives].
  • The hacking group Anonymous hacked into the Greece central bank and announced that they would hack into banks around the globe [Source: The Economist].
  • The US FDA recalled nearly half a million pacemakers for fear of their being hacked [Source: The Hacker News].
  • ‘Unpatchable’ vulnerabilities have been discovered in an industrial control system (ICS) that is used in many power plants.  The bad news is that the flaw has been publicly disclosed and the exploit code has been already released [Source: Security Affairs].
  • The Qatar National Bank was hacked with their taking a 1.4 GB trove of internal documents, files and sensitive financial data. The massive data dump appears to contain hundreds of thousands of records including customer transaction logs, personal identification numbers and credit card data [Source: International Business Times].
  • Hackers infiltrated a water utility’s control system and changed the levels of chemicals being used to treat tap water [Source: The Register].
  • The American public utility Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL) announced that the company became a victim of Ransomware attack knocking the utility’s internal computer systems offline.  BWL quickly shut down its networks – and suspended power and water shut-offs [Source: The Hacker News].
  • Hackers stole 2 Million dollars from Taiwan bank machines without even having a bank card [Source: Money CNN].
  • Hackers took 13 Million dollars from a South African bank using credit cards [Source: Money CNN].
  • 50 Russian hackers were arrested using the Lurk Trojan in Russia [Source: Cyber News Group].
  • A payment terminal botnet comprising of over 100 infected systems collected over 1.2 million card details [Source: Null TX].
  • The US Pentagon was also found to have weak network security that allowed access to internal US government systems for at least eight months [Source: ZDNet].
  • Holes in US computer network security enabled North Koreans to steal some US defense plans [Source: Endpoint Security Solutions Review].
  • The Military has been slow to adopt appropriate security measures in securing their networks and computerized battle systems.  Some microchips used in the majority of military hardware was purchased from a supplier in China that had a ‘backdoor’ encoded on the chip [source: Scribd.com] – easy to read article here.
  • Other articles: Ukraine Power Plant Hack, US Power Plant Hack, German Power Plant Hack, Israeli Power Plant Hack.

It seems that criminal activity is always one step ahead of any policing activity, and from what I see there are not enough deterrents in place to impede their growth – so I am curious as to just what it will take before serious actions are taken and meaningful deterrents put in place.

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