Much of today's malware has one goal in common: financial profit. Hackers used to create viruses largely for fun and glory. These days, hackers and online criminals are part of a sophisticated shadow economy that wants to make money.
Like any maturing industry, the online crime market has begun to segment into specializations. Some online criminals focus on the social engineering, marketing, and fulfillment of merchandise. Others work on building and maintaining massive bot networks that they make available for rent. And some organizations specialize in building and deploying tools for malware creation and delivery.
Talented developers have been creating ever-better variants of malware. They create malware for a specific, popular purpose and sell it "as is" or together with tech support. They also develop custom malware for specific projects. Of the types of malware now for sale or rent, the following are just a few examples:
- Mass blog-posting tools
- Volume spamming tools
- Account-generating tools for webmail accounts or community posting sites, such as Craigslist
- Keylogging programs
- Botnet management tools
Because malware is generating significant profits for online criminals, they'll keep investing in it. That means more new kinds of malware that take advantage of weaknesses in both existing and newly popular technologies and tools, and malware that works even harder to be efficient and stay hidden.
But how exactly are online criminals profiting from malware? And who's reaping these financial returns? In the next chapter, we explore the business aspects of malware.