A study by Rand Corp. and commissioned by the security firm Juniper Networks found a well-organised, multibillion-dollar underground economy that has become "a playground of financially driven, highly organized and sophisticated groups."
The evolution of cybercrime creates new challenges for security professionals trying to protect computer networks, says Nawaf Bitar, Juniper's general manager for security.
"We have long suspected that cybercriminals were sophisticated and that they had an organizational structure, but no one had studied this," Bitar told AFP.
"The success of this market is driven by accelerated economics, and the way to address this is through economics."
The report says the black markets "are growing in size and complexity" and that this activity "mirrors the normal evolution of a free market, with both innovation and growth."
Juniper's security vice president Michael Callahan said this cyber underground has all the characteristics of an economy, including its own currencies -- chiefly cryptographic payment forms such as Bitcoin.
Callahan said the underground economy is characterized by specialization and "resilience," so that if one market participant leaves, another steps up.
"We saw this when (the black market bazaar) Silk Road went down, and within a day other participants started filling that gap," Callahan said.
"It's one of those signs this is a mature economy."
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