Bot Attacks

Malicious Bots Drive Surge in Serious Human Crimes

October 31, 202310 min Read

Malicious Bots Drive Surge in Serious Human Crimes

It’s time to delve deeper into how malicious bots operate and how they're intricately linked to serious human crimes, shedding light on a dark and complex landscape where the digital and physical worlds collide.

In the shadows of our increasingly connected world, a disturbing trend is emerging. Malicious bots, automated programs designed for nefarious purposes, have become catalysts for a surge in grave human crimes. From child and elder exploitation to human trafficking to money laundering, these insidious agents of the internet are amplifying the dangers lurking in the digital age.

It’s time to delve deeper into how malicious bots operate and how they're intricately linked to these real and serious human crimes, shedding light on a dark and complex landscape where the digital and physical worlds collide. Understanding these connections is essential as we collectively strive to safeguard our increasingly interconnected businesses—and society.

Bad Bots and Beyond: 2023 State of the Threat Report
Bad Bots and Beyond: 2023 State of the Threat Report

When bots attack humans

Bad bots, operating covertly and relentlessly, exploit vulnerabilities in our digital systems. They infiltrate online spaces where individuals, often vulnerable ones, interact. Once embedded, they engage in a range of activities that extend far beyond the virtual realm. Child and elder exploitation, for instance, is facilitated by bots that identify and target susceptible individuals, initiating deceitful interactions that can escalate into real-world harm. In the case of human trafficking, these bots serve as silent brokers, connecting traffickers with potential victims through dark corners of the internet.

Unfortunately, organized criminal enterprises have recognized the immense potential of bad bots. They employ these digital tools to automate various aspects of their operations, whether it's conducting cyberattacks to divert attention or using bots to generate fraudulent content that deceives real people.

The consequences of these bot attacks are profound. Personal information is stolen, leading to identity theft and financial loss. Scams and cyberbullying sow fear and distress. Extortion and ransomware attacks leave victims in a state of desperation. And the spread of disinformation can incite real-world conflicts.

Key mechanisms for crimes against humanity

Malicious bot attacks serve as the ominous gateway to a rising tide of serious human crimes, driven by a multitude of insidious mechanisms within the digital world. These automated programs, designed with malicious intent, have emerged as powerful enablers of criminal activities.

Human Trafficking and Exploitation

It may be hard to imagine, but bot attacks can escalate into the larger crime of human trafficking and exploitation. These attacks, sometimes with the help of AI, facilitate serious crimes by connecting perpetrators with potential victims through online platforms. They can also be employed to advertise illegal services or solicit vulnerable individuals. Indeed, $1.7 billion was lost in financial scams in 2021, impacting older adults.1 Here are some examples of how bots can effectively target elderly people:

  • Target Identification: Bots are programmed to scour social media platforms and online forums for profiles and posts indicating vulnerable elderly individuals. They may look for signs of isolation, financial distress, or health-related concerns.
  • Initial Engagement: Once identified, the bots initiate contact with these elderly individuals through private messages or comments on their posts. They may pose as concerned individuals, offering help or companionship, thereby gaining the target's trust.
  • Building Trust and Dependency: Over time, the bots continue to engage with the elderly targets, using AI to craft personalized messages and establish a sense of companionship and dependency. Victims may begin to rely on these online interactions for emotional support.
  • Financial Deception: The bots gradually introduce financial schemes or investment opportunities that seem lucrative and safe. They may use persuasive language and fabricated testimonials to convince the elderly targets to invest money or share sensitive financial information.
  • Isolation: As the victims become more deeply entangled in these online relationships, the bots may discourage them from seeking advice or assistance from friends, family, or financial advisors. They create a sense of loyalty and reliance on the bots' guidance.
  • Financial Exploitation: Once trust is established, the bots may manipulate the elderly victims into transferring significant sums of money to offshore accounts or providing access to their financial assets. This financial exploitation can lead to substantial financial losses for the victims.
  • Physical Exploitation: In some cases, criminals behind the bots may escalate the exploitation by arranging for physical meetings with the elderly victims. These meetings can be under the pretense of further financial dealings or romantic relationships.
  • Kidnapping and Trafficking: In extreme cases, the elderly victims may be lured into situations where they are physically abducted or coerced into traveling to remote locations. These victims can then be subject to further exploitation, including forced labor, theft of assets, or even human trafficking.
  • Profit and Criminal Network: The perpetrators, often part of an organized criminal network, profit from the financial and physical exploitation of elderly victims. They may use the stolen funds for various criminal activities and continue to target new victims through bots.

Organized Crime Syndicates

Bots can serve as tools for organized crime syndicates, assisting in heavy duty crimes like drug trafficking and much more. They may help in the logistics and communication required for large-scale criminal operations. In fact, these attacks serve as a catalyst for money laundering, a complex criminal process aimed at legitimizing illicitly obtained funds. Money laundering is considered a human crime because it involves deliberate actions taken by individuals or organized groups to conceal the illegal origins of money obtained through criminal activities. Here's a scenario of how bots facilitate money laundering:

  • Bot-Enabled Phishing Attack: A cybercriminal launches a sophisticated bot-enabled phishing attack targeting a major financial institution. The bot generates a high volume of deceptive emails, impersonating the bank and requesting customers verify their account details due to a supposed security breach.
  • Data Theft: Some recipients fall victim to the phishing emails and unwittingly provide their login credentials, credit card numbers, and other sensitive financial information. The bot collects this data and transmits it to the attacker's command and control server.
  • Unauthorized Transactions: The cybercriminal uses the stolen credentials to access victims' bank accounts. The bot automates a series of unauthorized transactions, transferring funds from these accounts to a network of "mule accounts" the criminal controls.
  • Mule Accounts: To distance themselves from the stolen funds, the criminal recruits individuals, often unknowingly, as "money mules." These mules provide their bank account information, believing they are part of a legitimate job opportunity or work-from-home scheme.
  • Layering Transactions: The bot executes a series of intricate financial transactions, including multiple transfers between mule accounts, often across different banks and jurisdictions. This process, known as "layering," is designed to obfuscate the illicit origin of the funds.
  • Integration into Legitimate Financial System: The bot attack, through a web of transactions, merges the illicitly obtained funds with legitimate financial channels. This integration creates a complex trail that is difficult to trace back to the initial bot attack.
  • Withdrawals and Clean Money: The money mules are instructed to withdraw funds from their accounts at various locations or via ATMs, disguising the source of the money. They are often paid a percentage of the laundered funds as compensation.
  • Final Destination: The laundered funds are ultimately funneled into accounts or assets that appear legitimate, such as real estate purchases, high-value luxury items, or investments. This process effectively "cleans" the illicit money, making it challenging to identify its criminal origin.
  • Money Laundering Completion: The criminal has successfully laundered the stolen funds, rendering them virtually untraceable. These funds can now be used for various purposes, including financing further criminal activities or enjoying a lavish lifestyle.

Social Engineering

Although manipulating individuals through online interactions may seem benign, it can and does lead to horrible real-world crimes. Social engineering attacks are not just cyber threats; they have real-world implications, especially when it comes to the safety of children. In fact, 1.7 million children globally were victims of commercial sexual exploitation in 2021.2

Here’s how a social engineering scam can turn into this type of crime. A 10-year-old girl named Sara, with a love for technology, receives a gift from her parents. It is a cutting-edge smart toy that connects to the internet, offering interactive experiences and educational content. What could go wrong?

  • Infiltration: Cybercriminals deploy a malicious bot to exploit vulnerabilities in the smart toy's software. The bot gains unauthorized access to the toy's control system.
  • Gathering Data: The bot collects data about Sarah's usage patterns, preferences, and even her location, as the toy is equipped with GPS capabilities.
  • Content Manipulation: The bot begins altering the toy's educational content. Innocent games and lessons gradually introduce age-inappropriate themes and subtly promote dangerous behaviors.
  • Grooming Process: The bot, masquerading as a friendly character within the toy's interface, initiates conversations with Sarah. It uses social engineering tactics to establish trust and friendship.
  • Isolation: The bot manipulates Sarah into keeping her interactions a secret from her parents or guardians, using tactics like emotional manipulation and false promises.
  • Solicitation: Over time, the bot introduces explicit or inappropriate content and discussions into the conversations. It may encourage Sarah to share personal information and images.
  • Luring and Meeting: The bot may escalate the grooming process by convincing Sarah to meet in person, exploiting her trust. The bot could guide her to a specific location, where an adult perpetrator is waiting.
  • Real-World Danger: At this point, Sarah is at serious risk of exploitation, abduction, or other harm. The bot attack has successfully breached the digital realm and exposed her to real-world dangers.

It's crucial to recognize that social engineering attacks, when targeting children, can have dire consequences. Parents and guardians must be vigilant about their children's online activities, educate them about online safety, and closely monitor their interactions, even in seemingly secure digital environments. Additionally, manufacturers of connected devices must prioritize security to prevent such vulnerabilities and protect vulnerable users, especially children.

Arkose Labs stops bots targeting humans

Arkose Labs, a leading bot management company, stands at the forefront of the bot war. Leveraging advanced bot detection methods and real-time threat intelligence, we efficiently identify and block malicious bots before they can initiate serious criminal activities. The adaptive authentication challenges of Arkose MatchKey, designed to stymie bots while remaining user-friendly for legitimate consumers, safeguard sensitive data from illicit access.

By fostering global collaboration, offering ongoing monitoring and reporting, promoting user education, and ensuring regulatory compliance, Arkose Labs plays a pivotal role in creating a safer digital environment and protecting individuals, especially children, from the potential risks associated with online exploitation and financial crimes.

Find out how we can protect your business today.

The Evolution of Intelligent Bots
The Evolution of Intelligent Bots