Hacking for dollars

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"In the last year, we have seen a dramatic shift to hacking for financial gain," said Oliver Friedrichs, a senior manager at Symantec Security Response. "The benefit of creating a widespread worm on the Internet has really been superseded by the potential of monetary gain." Though the shift could mean the end of big worms like last year's Sasser, it still spells trouble. The targeted attacks crafted by businesslike hackers can hit individuals and organizations harder--and in the pocket, rather than just in the PC. There is an underground market. A hacker who finds a way to exploit a security hole in Windows could earn up to $1,000, or much more if the hole is not yet known to Microsoft or anyone else, said Dmitri Alperovitch, a research engineer at security vendor CipherTrust. That flaw could then be used to hijack PCs. These compromised systems, called zombies, can then be used to relay spam, to host malicious Web sites or to launch denial-of-service attacks--at a price. Spammers, phishers and others who want to rent out a network of about 5,500 zombies typically pay about $350 a week, according to security company Symantec.