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Business Is Booming -- for Cybercrooks, That Is

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 (AP)

The latest get rich quick scheme to hit the net? Hacking -- and it actually pays.

While the global economy continues to sputter, the burgeoning cybercrime industry is flourishing -- so much that these vast criminal organizations have begun posting job listings online to meet the growing demand for malware coders.

Starting salaries range from $2,000 to as much as $5,000 a month for those willing to program illicit software or even provide customer support, cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs explained.

"Business is booming," Krebs told FoxNews.com.

But you won't find ads for these jobs on Monster.com or Yahoo Jobs. Such listings and banners are appearing across the Internet, mostly in underground sites or forums dedicated to malicious cyberactivities. 

“You’re not going to find these just browsing the web,” Krebs told FoxNews.com, declining to divulge exactly where these underground job lairs are.

“The ads lead to a signup page where interested coders can leave their resume and contact information, and state why they are qualified for the position,” Krebs explained.

How do these criminal organizations make money? “They’re most likely involved in some pay-per-install program,” Krebs told FoxNews.com. These outfits essentially get paid for each computer they successfully install malicious software on.

“Services charge anywhere from $7 to $180 for every 100 times a piece of malware is installed,” Krebs said. One 21-year-old hacker he interviewed in 2006 was making as much as $10,000 a month operating a large “botnet” -- a collection of infected computers or "bots" controlled by a hacker.

Common types of programs that get installed include spambots, which turn your computer into a junk-mail relaying machine -- a $2 billion industry, according to security software maker Webroot Software Inc. -- and DDoS bots, which allows your machine to attack others in coordinated attacks. Another popular example is the password harvester.

While such criminal enterprises have been around since the beginnings of the Internet, what’s worrying about these recent revelations are the manner in which the cybercrime economy is developing.

As Krebs alluded to on his blog, what this new wave of advertising shows is that “malware gangs are reinvesting at least some of their earnings into research and development.” There is a huge emphasis on innovation. Moreover, these programs aren’t developed by individuals but cohesive teams of programmers, many who specialize in niche functions.

Finally, customer support is becoming a major driver of sales, showing just how entrenched this business model is.

And the reality of the situation is that 99 percent of these criminals will never be caught or prosecuted.

“It’s always a shame to hear about cybercriminals,” Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant of security firm Sophos, told FoxNews.com. “Some of these guys undoubtedly have significant IT and computing skills, and yet they’ve decided to focus them on criminal pursuits rather than something more positive and constructive.”