With Darkode gone, is your private data safer?

Psssst….wanna buy some malware? That’s not as easy today as it was a few days ago.

With the shutdown of Darkode, an online forum where botnets, malware, credit-card info, and other tools for cybercrime were traded and sold, it just got harder for thieves to stock up on the tools of their trade.

Operation Shrouded Horizon, as the FBI called it, resulted in the arrest on Wednesday of Darkode members in 20 countries. According to Jean-Philippe Taggart, senior security researcher at Malwarebytes Labs, “it’s a good possibility that people who frequented Darkode had something to do with” the big data thefts—such as those of Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, and Sony—that have occurred over the past two years and affected tens of millions of Americans. Officials haven't yet said what incidents those arrested may be responsible for, but security expert Brian Krebs has profiled several Darkode members.

Now that Darkode is history, are we any safer from big, headline-producing cybercrime? In the short term, the answer is yes. “Darkode was absolutely a very prolific forum with individuals selling significant amounts of access to [cybercrime] tools,” says Raj Samani, CTO of Intel Security.

But any reprieve will only be temporary, according to experts including Taggart: “This is how these people make their money, and they will get back to business pretty quickly, regrouping and creating another forum elsewhere.”

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Darkode was not only prolific, it was also long-established. Most similar markets open and close frequently. The participants who escaped arrest are highly experienced, and they will likely make their future forums even more secure from law enforcement. “They’ll just go further underground,” says Satnam Narang, senior security response manager at Symantec. “It’ll be harder to find them.”

The appeal of Darkode was its ability to make cybercrime easier to commit. Its members sold items such as exploit kits, which detect vulnerabilities in computers in order to deliver malware, that didn’t require much technical skill to utilize. “The reality is, when we look at cybercrime, everything is being commoditized,” Samani says. “These are well-run, well-funded businesses, with people collaborating and working together. It’s really an industry.”

Even with Darkode gone, there are still a seemingly endless number of botnets, exploit kits, and malware packages to sell, and an equally limitless demand. “At the end of the day, it’s a victory,” says Narang. “But it’s still more like a bump in the road than a road being blocked off.”

—Donna Tapellini

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