April 18, 2016 By David Strom 2 min read

An interesting analysis in Digital Shadows recently spoke about the hiring shortage that has befallen the black-hat hacker community. While most enterprise IT managers are frustrated about getting skilled cybersecurity personnel for their own teams, there are some unexpected benefits, too.

Comparing White-Hat and Black-Hat Hackers

There are plenty of similarities in how the bad guys and the good guys do their hiring. “Certainly, the lines between white- and black-hat hackers are blurring” said Ron Gula, the CEO of Tenable Security.

“These days you have to know what the bad guys are doing, otherwise you will never see them coming. You need more than just a range of originating IP addresses to be effective, and understanding the intentions and motivations of the potential hacker is critical. It all comes down to knowing your enemy.”

Part of this knowledge is in realizing that the black-hat hacker community has its own ecosystem of “malware writers, exploit developers, botnet operators and mules,” the Digital Shadows post described. The most knowledgeable cybercriminals know how to navigate this ecosystem — and the white hats should understand it, too.

First, postings on the black-hat hacker job boards provide some warning of their tools and techniques. “The lesson is that attackers gladly go after these basic vulnerabilities (such as SQL injection and DDoS) and can hire those with more entry-level technical skills to boost profits even further,” Digital Shadows explained.

Second, there is a balance for cybercriminals between maintaining operations security and the ability to recruit new team members. If they have tight operational security, that leaves them little recruitment time to grow their team. “We tend to give magical powers to hackers, but they are limited by the same rules and human resource constraints that we are,” said Gula.

Third, the talent shortage is helping malware hunters identify the underlying exploits faster. Just like in other IT areas, there are increasing skills specialization. This is driving greater code reuse among the black-hat hackers.

Cybercriminals Turn to Outsourcing

Earlier this year, IBM Executive Security Advisor and frequent Security Intelligence contributor Limor Kessem wrote that “the top cybercrime gangs buy webinjection [malware] from the same shady developers. The injections are adapted to each bank’s look and feel.” They can also be customized with other enterprise-specific details, according to IBM’s research.

Criminals are “outsourcing work to external experts who specialize in supplying their specific needs while keeping their business discreet.” But there is some good news coming from this movement. “Knowing that some cybercrime gangs use injections from the same provider can mean better malware protection” because the protection tools can more easily recognize the reused code.

So maybe having a talent shortage — at least among the bad guys — turns out to be a benefit of sorts for the legitimate business world.

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