Kaspersky Report Shows Dark Web Cybercrime Pays Well

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Unprecedented layoffs have put tens of thousands of highly qualified computer nerds out of a job but there’s apparently one place they can always turn to if they get really desperate: the dark web! A recent report from security firm Kaspersky shows that some job postings on darknet crime forums offer absurdly competitive salaries and pretty great benefits to boot.

“Cybercrooks need a staff of professionals with specific skills to penetrate the infrastructure of an organization, steal confidential data, or encrypt the system for subsequent extortion,” Kaspersky researchers write. The most generous employers, which tend to be prominent hacker gangs, even have been known to offer six figure salaries, “paid time off, paid sick leave,” and a “friendly team” as desirable job perks, researchers write. Wow, it’s just like Google!

I’m joking of course but security researchers have found that many cybercriminal gangs actually operate in much the same way that traditional corporations do. Most notably, a data leak last year connected to the ransomware gang Conti showed that the hackers hilariously had everything from an HR department, to customer support staff, to “employee of the month” awards, to performance reviews. Kaspersky’s research similarly shows that cybercriminal gangs—much like startups—need to fill a whole lot of different roles to make their criminal enterprises run smoothly.

One job posting, provided in full in Kaspersky’s report, doesn’t sound that different from something you’d find on LinkedIn:

We are looking for a person to join our team to oversee basic administrative and recruitment tasks. Salary is $5000-$8500 a month via cryptocurrency. Must be capable of coding and have experience in web development, as some of your administrative tasks will include development. Must be motivated and give 100% commitment to the team

Of the thousands of job postings that researchers trolled through for their report, a significant percentage were for web designers, IT administrators, and data analysts; about 16 percent, meanwhile, were for “attack specialists”—that is, hackers to help gangs break into networks. However, the vast majority of the job postings—about 61 percent of them—were for developer and coder positions. Such positions apparently pay the most, with reverse engineers typically netting as much as $4,000 a month via bitcoin or some other anonymized crypto payment. Researchers write that developer salaries can run as high as $10k to $20k a month, putting some lucky dark web denizens in the top 15 percent of U.S. workers.

That said, it would appear that most cybercriminals make much less than that—probably accumulating a sum in the ballpark of a part-time side hustle in the legitimate world. Researchers note that…

People may have several reasons for going to a dark web site to look for a job. Many are drawn by expectations of easy money and large financial gain. Most times, this is only an illusion. Salaries offered on the dark web are seldom significantly higher than those you can earn legally. Moreover, the level of compensation depends on your experience, talent, and willingness to invest your energy into work. Nevertheless, unhappy with their pay, a substantial percentage of employees in the legitimate economy quit their jobs to find similar employment on the dark web market…

Financial desperation can also drive people to turn to cybercrime, researchers note, providing screenshots from one darknet user who, at the height of the 2020 pandemic, apparently wrote: “My family is in quarantine because of the corona [sic]…I’m looking to get hired so I can get some money and help us out for at least month…since we can’t go outside…nobody can work.”

Disclaimer: as the headline of this article hopefully indicates, we at Gizmodo are not actually encouraging readers to engage in cybercrime. Moral and ethical concerns aside, computer crimes can net you a whole lot of time behind bars—which is an objectively worse fate than getting laid off.

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