An Economic Map of Cybercrime

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Alvaro Cárdenas, John Chuang, Jens Grossklags, Chris Hoofnagle and Svetlana Radosavac


Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC) 2009


This article explains the criminal network which commits cybercrime over the Internet and possible preventive measures.

Policy Relevance

Understanding the complex system of specialists that compose the cybercriminal community can help identify more efficient means of preventing future cybercrime.

Main Points

  • Cybercriminal activity encompasses a broad range of illegal conduct involving the Internet, including fraud, spam, and the creation and distribution of malware.

  • As the value and use of the Internet increases, so does the financial incentive for engaging in cybercrime. When combined with the lower penalties and reduced likelihood of prosecution, the result is a continuous increasing incentive for criminals to engage in cybercrime.

  • Typical cybercrimes involve the activities of multiple bad actors. Assessing the relationships between these individuals is an important step in increasing consumer protection on the Internet.

  • The community of cybercriminals is often divided into specialized groups, each with their own job.
    • Vulnerability researchers search commercial products for weaknesses, and then develop software to exploit these weaknesses.
    • Malware distributers find vulnerable computers upon which the tools developed by the researchers can be deployed.
    • Other specialists, including spammers, phishers, and attackers, take control of the vulnerable systems for nefarious purposes.
    • Payment processors and Internet fencers then work to turn the specialists’ stolen goods into monetary gain by either processing stolen credit card information or selling illegally-collected personal information.

  • The costs of cybercrime are often difficult to estimate, largely because many of these crimes go undetected and/or unreported. As such, a more systematic and transparent method of reporting cybercrime needs to be developed.

  • In order to deter this community of bad actors, it is necessary to increase both the probability of apprehending cybercriminals and the penalties associated with cybercrime. Computer security companies can also deter continued cybercrime by increasing the financial cost of mounting cybercrime attacks through more comprehensive defense systems.


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