The release of our report “Digital Souks: A glimpse into the Middle Eastern and North African underground” marks the 12th in our Cybercriminal Underground Economy Series (CUES). Having previously published several papers covering the Japanese, French, German, North American, Chinese, Russian and Brazilian undergrounds this is the first report of its kind focusing on this largely Arab speaking region.
While many of the goods and services offered share broad similarities, every region has its quirks and uniqueness, and the Middle Eastern and North African region is no exception. Underground forums in this region display a much more marked sense of shared ideology facilitated by a common language and often religious sense of community. Many wares that are more commonly offered for sale in other regions are openly shared for free in the marketplaces we investigated. Crypters, keyloggers, malware builders, and SQL injection tools are shared at no cost, and Information on Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) port numbers, for instance, were handed out “for the sake of good fortune.”
It is perhaps ironic to note that the sense of a shared religious affiliation transcends the criminal nature of the goods and services on offer. The majority of wares and services offered, focus on malware, stolen data and the fake documents that can be created and are sold as a result of this theft. Although there is a relatively widespread offering of bulletproof hosting services and cashout offerings, running even to the sale of goods used for the laundering of stolen funds, services more common in other global regions such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) platforms are far less common. This lack of availability of course drives up the price and regional offerings for attack platforms are significantly costlier than in other areas. It seems rather that vendors in Middle Eastern and North African marketplaces focus rather on offering the attack tools themselves, sometimes with access to a Command and Control (C&C) web interface, and some even with Service Level Agreements (SLA) relating to how long they will remain undetected by security vendors, some lasting up to three months.
One of the areas where online criminals in this region have particular experience is in hacking and defacing of web properties, particularly those with which the criminals may have an ideological or political disagreement, western countries and corporations, governments (including their own) and state-sponsored hacking groups.
While this particular region’s underground is still relatively young, we can already see a growing presence and influence of Russian and Chinese online criminals offering services and expertise and of course illicit economic muscle. The global market for cybercrime is primed right now to leverage the hacktivism offerings specific to this region. This climate could give a strong opportunity for growth in this region. Trend Micro will of course continue to monitor these marketplaces as they evolve while proactively coordinating with partners and enforcement authorities.
To read more about the Middle East underground, click here.