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Pandemic Popularity Forces Dark Web Forums to Recruit

The COVID-19 crisis appears to have had an unexpected impact on underground cybercrime sites, leading to a surge in growth which has left many understaffed, according to Digital Shadows. The dark web monitoring firm’s Digital Shadows Photon Research Team revealed in a new blog that several forums have recently been forced to go on a hiring spree for new moderators.

In April, an administrator post from English-language cybercrime forum Nulled apparently noted that the ‘community’ was “especially growing rapidly during COVID-19,” and that as a result it “require[s] additional assistance.” Another post in April, this time from the administrator of English-language site CrackedTO, cited “recent events” as the reason for its hiring plea.

“While there have been many predictable consequences of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, few would have foreseen significant growth for multiple cyber-criminal forums. Digital Shadows has observed forums being stretched at the seams due to their newfound pandemic popularity,” the Digital Shadows team wrote.

“In retrospect, it’s not that surprising: the coronavirus has placed enormous economic pressure on millions of people worldwide. It’s not illogical to surmise that some individuals may have turned to cybercrime to plug holes in their finances.” The firm explained that cybercrime sites run a highly formalized employee set-up with the administrator sitting at the top of a pyramid, while multiple moderators carry out the day-to-day work.

They are often tasked with specific roles, such as technical support, paying for advertising, enforcing site rules and answering user questions. The “trials moderators” sought by Nulled and CrackedTO are required to enforce the rules and assist users, as well as clean up malware and spam.

Good moderators seem to be highly sought after, making recruitment also a formalized process: “Elements of the recruitment advertisements come up again and again: the importance of devoting a significant chunk of time to the role, the requirements for applicants to have a thorough knowledge of the section and the perceived prestige associated with the role,” said Digital Shadows.

“Most also emphasized that these positions are unpaid.”

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