As Venezuela's economy plunges, citizens turn to hacking and cybercrime for easy money

Cybercrime is on a rapid rise in Venezuela as an effect of the country's economic and political turmoil, according to a report released Thursday by IntSights, a global threat intelligence company. More and more people are being driven into the underground criminal world as it provides a lucrative alternative to make money.

IntSights analysts found sophisticated and systematic operations working to steal personal information of individuals from Latin America, such as bankers and retailers and they either sell the information online to the highest bidder or use it further to dig more data. These hacks and data gathering operations are quite profitable and remunerative for Venezuelans, as they sell it for cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, a better alternative to the drowning national currency-Venezuelan bolivar.

Venezuela, once amongst the richest countries in Latin America, with large oil reserves and gold mines has now become a mere shell of its former self as decades of corruption and socialist rule have plunged the economy. The political condition of the country is also severe as there have been ongoing protests and rebels against President Nicolás Maduro from last year. This hyperinflation in Venezuela has caused a deterioration in the national currency and thus citizens have turned to cryptocurrency.

The International Monetary Fund says inflation of the Venezuelan bolivar, the country’s currency, is expected to hit a startling 200,000 percent this year. A cup of coffee that cost 150 bolivars in November 2018 now costs 18,000 bolivars, according to Bloomberg (Quoting nbcnews).

The hackers are based in Venezuela a neighboring country, like Colombia and they don't seem to be hiding unlike experienced hackers from Russia and China. Information about the operations, their phone numbers and where to find them is easily available.
“They don’t seem too concerned about hiding,” Charity Wright, an analyst at IntSights said. “I think it’s because they don’t sense law enforcement will do anything.”

The law enforcers have also turned a blind eye to the victims, as they are more concerned about handling the political turmoil, the reports said.

There has been heavy censorship in the country with bans on CNN, major newspapers, VPN's. Social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, and messaging apps like WhatsApp are the major means of communication for the people. Cybercriminals can also be found easily on these platforms collaborating and looking for work.

"The Venezuelan underground has risen to the surface with the anarchy and chaos of the Maduro regime,” said Tom Kellermann, head of cybersecurity strategy for cloud computer company VMware and a global fellow for cyber policy at the Wilson Center. These crimes comprise large-scale email phishing and malware campaigns, sensitive data being sold on public websites and over the dark web.