Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gangster-Nerds

I found this Economist article from digg. It suggests that there is a cultural shift within the yakuza, Japanese organized crime (for those who didn't catch on to the Nippon-obsession of Snow Crash and to some extent on digg). Essentially, the new generation of yakuza has diverted from the samurai spirit of the group to a more business-oriented approach. To make more money, these gangster-nerds evoke the capitalist ethic to reach out to the wide mass of people rather than use the old-time face-to-face extortion which is time-consuming and labor-intensive. This outreach of the masses can be accomplished by promoting financial frauds that prey on greed over the Internet and through social networks. Still, questions linger about the causes of the yakuza's change. Most prominently is the installation of broadband throughout Japan. However, there are other processes involved, such as globalization and the transmission of capitalist values, anti-mafia political movements, and a shrinking Japanses demographic lessening traditional opportunities for newer members.

Since operating systems and browsers now include security features by default, users are most likely protected from common technical hacking such as decrypting banking transactions. However, the most persistent threat to information security is social engineering attacks, where users unwittingly download malicious code that searches their computer for passwords and identifying information. Despite its warning pop-ups in browsers, phishing is still a problem as information security must continuously update its blacklist. Unfortunately, the site is placed on the blacklist only when some people have already become victims.

On a related note, virtually communities have also led to semi-organized crime, where a person deceived other people into participating in something they thought was legitimate. The case that created this uproar (this version of the story by the BBC) was the burglary of a Seattle woman's house through an ad on craigslist that posed as a giveaway. Soon, local users entered the house and took whatever they wanted as sanctioned by the posting. Again, its about social engineering but more about the culture of the craigslist community, where everyone was familiar with postings about giveaways. This crime is more damaging since there was unknown number of participants acting anonymously, and they probably do not have a criminal background.

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