|Organized crime gangs were attempting to extort cash from Internet betting sites ahead of American football's Super Bowl on Sunday , threatening ‘denial of service’ attacks unless a 'protection' fee was paid, police and site operators said. |
Britain's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) told Reuters it looking into a series of attacks and threats of attacks on UK companies. Security experts say sites based in the Caribbean and continental Europe have also been targeted.
'These are not groups of amateur hackers -- great deals of money are changing hands,' said an NHCTU spokesman. 'These are for-profit crimes and all intelligence suggests that organized crime is involved.'
Curacao-based VIP Management Services, operator of seven gambling sites including www.VIPSports.com and www.Betgameday.com, has been a target for the attacks.
'We were first targeted in September and have been under intermittent attack ever since,' said Alistair Assheton, VIP managing director.
Security experts and police said they believe the hackers are based in Eastern Europe and Russia, due to the region's weak cyber crime laws and the programming skills available there.
Assheton said last Monday he received an email demanding $30,000 via Western Union or to risk an attack. 'They essentially said 'pay up or you will go down for the Super Bowl,'' he said.
Police sources said this type of cyber extortion has increased recently. The risk of being knocked offline by a digital attack on Super Bowl weekend, one of the busiest betting periods of the year, could doom a gambling site.
Jeffrey Weber, author of an online betting news letter dedicated, www.Alltopsportsbooks.com, said an a few hours downtime is could lose between $500,000 to $1 million dollars worth of action in that time.
A Reuters report cited an email extortion threat distributed earlier this month that demanded sites pay $15,000 for six months' protection.
'If you wait to make a deal with us when the attacks start, it will cost you $25,000 for six months protection and the lost revenues as your site will stay down until the $25,000 is received,' the e-mail threat said.
Weber said some smaller online bookies have paid up, reasoning it would be cheaper than being out of action during a busy period. 'It's almost like the criminal elements of the neighborhood bookmakers has merged with the world of online bookmakers,' he said.
The comparatively small sums demanded leads security and law enforcement sources to believe gangs with experience in extortion schemes are behind them.
'This is very professional,' said one security expert.