Trend Micro releases 'Digital Souks', comprehensive whitepaper on regional underground at GITEX 2017

Prices for malware and hacking tools at USD 19 in the region, as compared to USD 4 in North America.

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Trend Micro, a global leader in cyber security solutions, at GITEX 2017, released its comprehensive whitepaper: "Digital Souks: A Glimpse into the Middle Eastern and North African Underground", detailing criminal activities within the underground of this region.

Prices for malware and hacking tools are generally a bit more expensive than in other regions. For example, a keylogger in the North American underground runs for USD 1-USD 4, but here it can be up to USD 19. However, the willingness for members to share content for a mutual cause helps balance out the price differences.

The Middle Eastern and North African underground is where culture, ideology, and cyber crime meet. Trend Micro has seen that regional marketplaces closely reflect the societies in which they operate. In this region, this facilitates itself in the "spirit of sharing" mindset, held by those that operate here, with a feeling of brotherhood and religious alliance that transcends the illicit transactions that occur.

"Still a propagating market, the region is not on par in terms of scale and scope when compared to other regions, but the products and services available remain common and sophisticated," said Ihab Moawad, Vice-President, Trend Micro, Mediterranean, Middle East & Africa. "We now have a heightened awareness of the region, which then allows us to gather and analyse threat intelligence so that we can better help the region strengthen its cyber defences. Trend Micro will continue to monitor regional marketplaces so we can proactively empower our ecosystem, and offer greater clarity to law enforcement agencies, here in the region, and globally."

"Also, the prevalence of giving services and malware away for free is interesting. Other underground marketplaces provide support to members, but the extent and willingness in this region is unique," added Moawad.

The ideology of hacking as a service is unique to MENA's underground due to the ideology that drives its trade. In other marketplaces, like in North America or Russia, their purveyors mostly focus on selling their wares and forum participants don't band together to plan cyber attacks.

Hacktivism, DDOS attacks and Web site defacements are a staple in this region. These tactics are often carried out by members who present ideological distrust towards Western countries, as well as towards local governments. Major primary product categories are malware: 27%, fake documents: 27%, stolen data: 20%, crimeware: 13%, weapons: 10%, and narcotics: 3%.

Crimeware sold includes a variety of cryptors, malware and hacking tools. Worm: USD1-USD 12, keylogger: free-USD19, known ransomware: USD 30-USD 50, malware builder: free-USD 500, citadel (FUD): USD 150, ninja RAT (FUD): USD 100, and Havij 1.8 (cracked) for free.

Hosting providers in the region make significant profit by selling regionalised hosting spaces, which allows for local language and time settings in addition to faster connection speeds. A single IP connection and 50GB of hard disk space, for instance, are sold for USD 50. Smaller plans exist, and start as low as USD 3. To some extent, the price is on par with other underground marketplaces, such as that of China.

Similar to the Russian underground, cash-out services also abound here. These are platforms from which physical items, usually stolen, are converted into cash. These services are paid in bankcards, Bitcoins (BTC) or via direct cash transactions.

A unique aspect of cash-out services here is how they are used to bypass security mechanisms and legal requirements in the region, such as those in place for the purchase of cellphones, and disposable SIM cards. In the MENA underground, DDOS services can be purchased by hacktivists and threat actors to further their ideology.

Private and public organisations are often targeted; however, the service is not as prevalent as is widely believed, and its rarity commands a steep price. The average is USD 45 per hour, with three-hour packages at USD 275, and involves tools such as Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) or Lizard Stresser.

Malware as a service (MaaS) typically includes a purveyor, a malware developer selling a single binary or a combination of a binary and builder marketed as fully undetectable (FUD). Average prices are USD 20 for a binary, and USD 30-USD 110 for a binary with C&C infrastructure. A binary-builder package costs around USD 150-USD 400.

Stolen identities are sold in forums across the region. The Arabic forum hack-int in Egypt sells stolen identities for USD 18. The demand for personally identifiable documents is influenced by geopolitical tensions - their buyers wanting to flee active war zones, for instance, leveraging them to migrate to other countries as refugees. On the other hand, cyber criminals can also purchase fake documents to perpetrate insurance fraud or prove resident status. A daunting real-world implication is a dangerous person buying these fake documents, and slipping through to other countries as refugees.

Furthermore, virtual private networks (VPNs) are a mainstay for cyber criminal activity and can be purchased due to the anonymity they provide. VPNs offered here are purportedly secure, don't store logs, and have multiple hop points. Cyber criminals will typically use these servers as either part of a botnet, or a jump-off platform for further attacks.

For this research, Trend Micro delineated the MENA underground as marketplaces, Web sites, and forums hosted within the regions. Arabic is the prevalent language, although some sites are in Turkish, Farsi, English, and occasionally French. While criminals sell commodities to and from the Middle East and North Africa, they are also operating globally.

Trend Micro

Trend Micro, a global leader in cyber security solutions, helps to make the world safe for exchanging digital information. Its innovative solutions for consumers, businesses and governments provide layered security for data centres, cloud environments, networks and endpoints. All our products work together to seamlessly share threat intelligence and provide a connected threat defence with centralised visibility and control, enabling better, faster protection. With more than 5 000 employees in over 50 countries and the world's most advanced global threat intelligence, Trend Micro enables organisations to secure their journey to the cloud. For more information, visit

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