The professionalization of cybercriminal gangs was once again evidenced in a Kaspersky report, which demonstrated the fertile market for vacancies in offensive groups and the high values offered to interested professionals. In some cases, salaries could reach US$ 20,000, or around R$ 105,000, with the right to benefits such as paid vacations and days off, as well as guaranteed leave in case of health and other family events.
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The cybersecurity company analyzed more than 200,000 job advertisements published by cybercriminals between March 2020 and June 2022, following precisely this professionalization movement that accompanies ever-increasing profits. Gangs seek, in most cases, software developers, with 61% of advertisements being aimed at these professionals.
Specialists in cyber attacks, with experience in other bands or penetration tests, also appear with high salaries, of up to US$ 15 thousand (about R$ 76 thousand) and represent 16% of the publications. Designers (10%), administrators (6%) and reverse engineers (4%) complete the list of most sought after professionals, which also include intelligence analysts — where Kaspersky’s highest pay is located — and testers.
According to the survey, on the general average, designers are the least requested and receive the lowest salaries, while reverse engineers are in the spectrum of the highest payments. The largest number of professionals, however, receive between US$ 1,300 and US$ 4,000 (or approximately R$ 6,600 and R$ 20,000), with a third of the vacancies requiring full-time and another amount allowing flexible schedules.
In addition to payments on average or even above what is paid in the formal market, Kaspersky also draws attention to benefits offered in 8% of the vacancies analyzed by the survey. 7% of the positions offered also offer career plans, with professionals having the possibility to grow within gangs if they do a good job.
Resumes and portfolios are required for hiring, while professionals also undergo tests that put their skills to the test — many, also, paid, with amounts of hundreds of dollars just for participating. Among the tasks are manipulating a malicious DLL within 24 hours, so that it is undetectable by antiviruses, or performing a penetration test on protected networks; all this, of course, in addition to interviews with operators of the groups.
According to the survey, the largest number of ads were published in the first half of 2020, coinciding with the peak of social isolation during the covid-19 pandemic. A second strong movement took place between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, when companies began to adopt hybrid regimes for their employees; in both cases, they are situations of increased weaknesses in organizations.
My family is in quarantine because of the corona (…) it’s hurting us a lot, to be honest. I’m looking to get hired to get some money and help us out for a month or two. Since no one can leave for a month, no one can work.
I am willing to do many things and I learn fast. I am free daily for a few hours. I know how to crack and I have basic programming, I’m willing to learn anything.
During this period, incidentally, Kaspersky draws attention to the publications of professionals seeking recruitment, claiming to be isolated at home or having lost their jobs during the pandemic. A demonstration, according to experts, of fragility that also translates into regional political uncertainties, economic crises and other aspects that make involvement with illegal work more than interesting, but one of the few existing alternatives.
High values, risks too
Looking only at the numbers and opportunities, Kaspersky argues that the proposals may sound interesting, especially for students, recent graduates and unemployed professionals or without prospects in their legitimate jobs. The security firm, however, points out the dangers involved in what is ultimately a criminal activity.
In addition to joining a criminal gang, the company points out that there is no guarantee that the promised salary, as well as the benefits, will be fulfilled, even though there is an internal ethics among groups of this type. Participation in fraudulent schemes can also put professionals in the crosshairs of the law, especially after attacks actually happen with their participation.
For Kaspersky, the professionalization of cybercrime is a one-way street, with the dark web continuing to be the recruitment epicenter for gangs that need more and more professionals. At the other end, it is an additional challenge for security administrators and also for managers, who are faced with the reality that formal jobs may not be as attractive as they believe.