By Nate Stewart, WLTX and Byron Acohido, USA TODAY
Cyber security and law enforcement experts say that publicly disclosed cases of internet breaches represent only a fraction of the actual number of successful hacks of corporate and government networks.
"The bad guys are really using the internet to create partnerships and vertically integrated operations that are more efficient than how legitimate businesses are doing."
USATODAY technology expert Byron Acohido has been researching and writing on cyber criminal breaches and attacks since 2004. It's an underground industry he says has been increasing steadily every year since the birth of the internet.
"And the reason is, because it is easy to do these attacks. It's very low cost and very low risk," says Acohido. "It's very hard to trace back who is doing the attacks."
Acohido describes the underbelly of the World Wide Web as a vibrant, dynamic marketplace: it's like an E-bay website, but instead of bidding on clothes and baseball cards, criminals sell government, business, and even your own home computer's data for cold hard cash.
"There are services on how to cash out the data, including setting up a series of online counterfeit accounts, where you can launder money through them and eventually at the end of the day extract the money."
A data breach investigation report by the cellular company Verizon states that Russia and Eastern Europe make up 67% of all cyber attacks.
"There has been increased cooperation between law enforcement in Russia and the West. It has been improving but it is a huge industry there in Russia in terms of cyber attacks for profit."
Acohido says cyber crooks routinely gather intelligence through Facebook, Linkedin, and an agency's own website to target of key agency officials and employees.
"You then send them an email or Facebook message and get them to click on a link. The link therefore corrupts that person's computer and now you have control of the computer."
According to the website AppRiver, in the first six months of 2012, spam accounted for 82% of all e-mail traffic, and the number of new viruses carried in e-mail spam continues to climb. Cyber attacks Acohido says won't be slowing down anytime soon.
"We've been pushing all of our commerce and all of our social networking online on to this distribution network that is built around anonymity."
Since 2005 there have been 603 reported breaches of government and military networks which at least 141 million records were stolen. This year alone there have been 76 government and military network data breaches, in which 9.8 million records were taken.