Symantec released their Report on the Underground Economy in late November. The report indicates that while the financial markets may be struggling on nearly a global scale, the underground markets are thriving and becoming more self-dependent.
The study, which looks at the July 2007 - June 2008 timeframe, seeks to examine the black market used to advertise and traffic stolen information such as Social Security numbers, credit card information, bank account details and more. Even email addresses are valuable, since they can be used to create phishing campaigns for more valuable information. The underground economy is a global market, with an estimated value of total advertised wares (this stolen information being used to obtain goods, services or loans) being over $276 million.
Credit card information was being sold for anywhere between $0.10 and $25 per card, often sold in bulk packages. In addition to the buying selling of stolen information, the economy also has people who buy and sell new exploits and scams. Often sellers will post samples of the information they have for sale, with Symantec monitoring 44,752 unique samples of sensitive information.
There is evidence that profits made from the sale of this stolen information is now being re-invested into the growing strength of these cyber criminals - purchasing new exploits, hiring developers to create more exploits, expanding infrastructure, etc. Given its lucrative nature, the underground economy is growing and becoming more sophisticated. There is evidence that attackers are sharing information to help each others' work: another example of the organized nature of the underground economy.