Hackers recruit for local language skills

McAfee report says hackers seeking more sophisticated phrasing of scams


SAN FRANCISCO -- Wanted: computer virus writers. Must be fluent in Mandarin. Or Russian. Or Portuguese.

These hacker help wanted ads are appearing on underground Internet channels as malicious code designers increasingly want programmers with foreign-language skills to help launch country-specific attacks, security vendor McAfee Inc. said in a report Thursday.

Hackers want to craft compelling and grammatically correct Web pages and spam e-mails - which are crucial in fooling people to download viruses or reveal personal information like credit card numbers, according to the report.

By localizing their attacks, hackers can better target software and sites popular in specific countries - such as peer-to-peer network applications in Japan, online gaming sites in China, and banks in Brazil. They can also limit their attacks to countries where law enforcement is more likely to be lax.

The report found that just 67 percent of spam is now written in English, a sign that broadband penetration in emerging markets has made attacks in non-English languages increasingly lucrative.

Attacks written in local languages aren't new, but the torrent of money flowing into criminal coffers from Internet attacks has made hackers increasingly sophisticated about lures that will work on their targets.

"It speaks to the underlying professionalism and understanding of business that we've seen in the past few years, and that we haven't seen in the past," said David Marcus, security research and communications manager with McAfee. "They're approaching malware as a business and are looking to build their businesses globally."

Marcus added that hackers' recruitment pitches often take two forms: hackers looking to employ virus-writers to design spam and Web sites in local languages, and those hackers looking to trade malicious programs in different languages.

Hackers already have made progress in English-language spam, Marcus said. While three quarters were packed with typos and other errors just a few years ago, he said, only about 10 percent do so today.

"It doesn't take a huge investment in time to craft this stuff perfectly," he said.


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