For $50, one could purportedly get a lifetime license to upgradeable variants of WannaCry. We saw this advertisement in an Arabic-speaking underground forum on May 14, two days after WannaCry’s outbreak. Indeed, a threat that left a trail of significant damage in its wake was objectified into a commodity, and even a starting point for others to launch their own cybercriminal businesses.
WannaCry’s relatively low price also reflects another unique aspect of the Middle Eastern and North African underground: a sense of brotherhood. Unlike marketplaces in Russia and North America, for instance, where its players aim to make a profit, the Middle East and North Africa’s underground scene is an ironic juncture where culture, ideology, and cybercrime meet. Malware—such as remote access Trojans (RAT), keyloggers, as well as SQL injection and spam distribution tools—are readily given away here. This sense of brotherhood is further demonstrated by how members collaborate to purportedly plan and carry out distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and website defacements.
Other ransomware are also sold in its markets. In fact, we saw the CTB-Locker (a.k.a. Critroni and Curve-Tor-Bitcoin) ransomware peddled in a Turkish underground forum by a Russian cybercriminal going by the handle Fizik. It’s worth noting that the advertisement was exactly the one used previously in a Russian underground forum where Fizik has been active as far back as 2006.
Fizik’s crossover also reveals another distinct facet of the regions’ underground scene: an apparent Russian connection. Russian cybercriminals and threat actors sometimes peddle their wares in the Middle Eastern and North African underground. They are also known for occasionally hiring coders and developers from both regions. The Lost Door RAT (BKDR_LODORAT), for instance, is a Tunisia-based malware originally sold on a Russian underground forum in 2016.
The demand for personally identifiable information, and how its trade is influenced mostly by geopolitical tensions, is another unique characteristic of the Middle Eastern and North African underground. Stolen Middle Eastern and North African identities are duplicated then sold in Arabic-speaking forums, for instance. Conversely, these stolen identities can be used by cybercriminals to perpetrate fraud or prove resident status. A daunting real-world implication: bad guys buying these fake documents to slip into other countries.
Our research, which covers a period between July and December 2016—back when AlphaBay, a dark web marketplace, was still active—delves into the distinct culture pervading the regions’ underground scene. What are the average prices of the available wares? What are their real-world repercussions? What is the regions’ outlook in the bigger picture of cybercrime? Learn more about our latest cybercriminal underground research, Digital Souks: A Glimpse into the Middle Eastern and North African Underground.