In the age of digital data, most of us are aware of the dangers posed by identity theft. It could be as simple as a cyber-thief stealing your credit card number out of an online database, or as complex as a criminal hacker misappropriating every recordable element of who you are in the digital world, from your social security number to your name and picture.
While the image of lone computer whiz kids hacking away in dark rooms is a popular one, the reality is, there is a thriving black market in identity documentation -- so thriving that prices are surprisingly cheap. According to a recent article on the technology news site GigaOm, your identity can be bought by some unscrupulous person for the price of a Big Mac, Fries and a Coke.
“A single package with a victim’s credit card number, social security number, expiration date and mother’s maiden name — that can be $4 to $5 per victim,” wrote the article’s author, Lauren Hockenson. Identity traders will also sell access to your entire bank account for just five to 10 percent of its total value, Hockenson reported.
While you’d think that your personal financial info is the Holy Grail of cyber-crime, these days, your social media accounts are even more coveted by thieves -- especially if you’re a prolific Tweeter or Facebooker. If you have 10,000 Twitter followers, your account can sell on the black market for $15, the same price as a package of 1,000 Facebook “likes.”
According to a recent Reuters report, a package of 1,000 “likes” on Instagram sells for $30. Compare that to the price of 1,000 credit card numbers, just $6. Reuters reported that cyber-crooks have modified the Zeus computer virus, originally designed to pilfer credit card info, into a new form that spits out hundreds of Instgram “likes.”
Idan Aharoni, head of cyber intelligence for the security firm RSA, is not surprised by the new trend on online crime. “Cybercriminals go where the money is,” he said, “and if they can make money by selling social media followers and ‘Likes,’ we’ll definitely see some of them move in that direction.”
SOURCES: Time, GigaOm, Reuters