For decades, extortion (for money) has been a powerful weapon for mafia criminals to shakedown lucrative businesses and underworld operations. Extortions by italian mafia is legendary – their tactics ingrained into the American psyche; threats of bloodshed were real. “Pay us money … we protect you … or else.” Nowadays, there’s a new style of extortion and its not done by Italian Mafiosos wearing dark suits and glasses, nor is it done in person. This new-style gangsterism involves extortion of gambling websites carried out in cyberspace by human forces – forces who speak foreign languages – communicating demands across the globe.

Russian Mafia
Image by 7ty9 via Flickr

Russian crime groups, the FBI says, “extort gambling websites out of millions of dollars by ‘hacking’ into websites and shutting down the operation.” Such tactics prevent wagers from gambling. Once the sites become inoperable, the extortionist contacts the website owners demanding money. Afraid customers will place bets elsewhere with rival gambling sites, the owners pay the ransom. As technology enters the 21st century, Internet gambling has also emerged as a popular multi-billion dollar industry. Instead of traveling to Atlantic City, Vegas or New Jersey to wage bets – a gambler can stay home, fire up a computer, and place bets online to offshore casinos located in the Caribbean, Antigua or Spain. They use software tools to hack into the websites of online gambling, corporate businesses and financial institutions, ripping off millions of dollars is a global epidemic, law enforcement and hi-tech experts admit.

According to law enforcement agencies, there are numerous reports of organized crime operations from Russia and Eastern Europe carrying out denial-of-service (DOS) attacks, to blackmail online gambling sites and e-commerce websites. In late 2003 and early 2004, online casino news reported that the FBI and National Hi-Tech Crime units discovered that computer hackers employed by russian mafia launched a DOS attack on Worldpay System affecting thousands of online casinos. Online casinos rely on Worldpay to process customer’s transactions and pay off gamblers. Worldpay.com, including six other online businesses, was targeted by mafia cyber-extortionists demanding $50,000 per hit. D.K. Matai of M126, which monitors unauthorized computer hacking says criminal syndicates hired by Russian mafia have targeted large online payment systems owned by gambling sites. Technically, DOS attacks involve flooding a website with malicious traffic, and exhausting the servers with false requests. A typical extortion to online gambling and payment companies goes like this: “You have to pay us $50,000 or we will start DOS attacks or if you don’t pay us what we want, then we’ll make sure you don’t have customers.

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