Competitions on English-language cybercriminal forums: A stagnant competitors design?

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Russian-language cybercriminal forums aren’t the only ones to host competitors.

In January 2020, we published a blog about competitors on Russian-language cybercriminal forums This blog site checked out the Russian-language online forum competitors model’s development: Contests altered from little, innocent competitions hosted by private members to the forum-wide competitors with sponsors and large prize money seen in recent years, requiring online forum users to have specific skills and understanding to participate.

English-language cybercriminal online forums appear to have actually just recently established distinct trends and competition formats that set them apart from their Russian equivalents.

It’s time to, yet again, dive into the cybercriminal world of competitors, prizes, and awards galore.

Competitors on English-language cybercriminal forums: A (absence of) history

The advancement of competitions on English-language cybercriminal forums is admittedly tricky to examine, as the life process of numerous are frequently either short-term or afflicted by downtime and sporadic inactivity. Examples consist of Dark0de, a popular online forum removed by police in 2015, and Envoy, which has, in the past number of months, repeatedly experienced dispersed denial of service attacks (DDoS) and consequently has actually experienced downtime.

As an outcome, there are few cases of English-language forums with a custom of hosting routine competitions, and it’s challenging to find any clear, structured advancement of a distinct English-language forum competition design.

There have, naturally, been exceptions. The BitsHacking online forum started hosting regular competitors soon after its creation in 2012, with its most recent competitors revealed in late2018 This example provides us experts with a certain quantity of insight into the somewhat-fluid evolution of competitions. Because BitsHacking seems to be the exception rather than the rule, as a specific case, it is not sufficient to draw any corroborated conclusions.

But fret not!

Even though the forums that have just recently organized competitions have actually not separately done so long enough for any historical patterns to appear, there are plenty of discrete cases of English-language forums hosting contests out in the wild. When we integrate these cases for analytical functions, a clear set of standard ideas and functions emerges.

English Cybercriminal Forum Recently observed qualities: Basic ways, happy days

The competitions are nearly exclusively organized by the online forum administrator and staff, rather than private members. In cases where the competition has been set up by a single forum user, the competitors and its organizer should be formally authorized by the administrator beforehand.

Competition announced on BitsHacking, where individuals can win a VIP membership

The occasions are normally innocent, “just-for-fun” competitions with basic formats that require minimum effort from the forum administrators. Here are some examples:

  • Member of the Month: Cracked TO, Nulled, and a number of other forums host monthly awards in which members have to choose and then vote for a user to end up being “Member of the Month” and receive either a small prize money or a token on their profile banner.
  • Accomplishments: RaidForums and others have included an awards system in which members can win or request tokens for different accomplishments, such as developing a set number of threads on the forum or sharing a certain amount of breached data.
  • Capture the Flag: The high-profile forum Torum enables members to participate in “capture the flag” team difficulties (assaulting the other group’s system) organized by a high-ranking online forum member, however there are no actual prizes to win. Although such obstacles might need the participants to have some specific skills, numerous brand-new members without much experience have actually participated, utilizing them as hands-on, “enjoyable” finding out experiences.

The majority of these may not be thought about “competitions” in the standard sense. Still, they can be considered as a way of getting members to contend against each other without going through the effort of organizing big, more complicated competitors that require more oversight and resources.

Member of the Month event on Cracked TO

BitsHacking is among the odd ones out in the group, being among the few online forums to have hosted more traditional competitors regularly over a prolonged duration, including:

  • Regular monthly contests for new members
  • Recommendations competitors, to obtain as numerous referrals as possible within a given time frame
  • Graphics competitors, to develop various logos

The most recent competition it hosted was, surprisingly enough, the first instance on the online forum that required individuals to display their “hacking abilities” to remove a named website, with the winning hacking team receiving USD500

Other than for BitsHacking’s newest contest, all its occasions have been relatively innocent and pure competitions, with small prizes and simple formats that have not needed much effort from the administrator.

Bug Bounty Program contest on BitsHacking

Another engaging case to note is a current competition hosted by Nulled The forum had formerly only hosted Member of the Month awards, in early to mid-April 2020, a high-ranking online forum member organized a main Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament (with the blessing of the forum administrator).

The competition had 80 participants divided into 16 groups of 5. Despite being the first instance of an online video gaming tournament hosted on Nulled (and across forums with a higher profile), the contest was still reasonably innocent and enjoyable. There was a small competitors prize: The winning team got the grand prize of EUR 50, with a member of the winning team receiving only EUR 10 each).

Various usage cases for various competition types

The smaller sized, and perhaps less acknowledged, forums have tended to use competitions as a way of getting and keeping brand-new members, as exhibited by the referral competitions and month-to-month newbie competitors on BitsHacking, and the Member of the Month awards on Cracked TO and Nulled. Such competitions potentially allow online forums to acquire brand-new users, and winning these types of contests on smaller sized forums also allows users to gain a credibility rapidly, consequently providing them more reason to remain.

On the other hand, higher-profile online forums, such as RaidForums and Torum, don’t seem to have objectives of utilizing competitions to get new members and build reputation; they likely feel they’re currently popular enough. Rather, they utilize obstacles or awards systems to preserve their subscription, boost a sense of community, and award users for “good behavior”.

Without these plans, it’s challenging for members to rapidly get a noteworthy track record among the numerous online forum members contending for status.

English vs Russian-language cybercriminal forums

Russian-language online forum competitions have, as discussed, gone from being small-scale competitions hosted by specific members with little cash prizes or symbolic awards to forum-wide, highly renowned contests needing skill and understanding to participate. Winning these competitions not only suggests getting a substantial cash prize however involves a lot of prestige. The durability and status of Russian-language forums, and the resources available to them, have likely enabled this development of the competitors design.

The competition design on English-language forums has not decreased the same roadway …

Mostly due to brief life span, or downtime and sporadic lack of exercise, online forum administrators are hosting simple competitors that are open to all forum members, have little prizes, and make use of basic competitors formats needing minimum effort. The focus for the English-language websites appears to be on easy and easy home entertainment, rather than status, cash, and utilizing abilities.

Another distinction depends on the contests’ hosts. Specific members arranged the initial Russian-language forum competitors, however in more current times, as the competitors have grown in scale and complexity, they have actually been organized by the forum administrator and personnel.

The development on English-language online forums has actually been the total opposite. The forum administrator and staff had specifically hosted contests on English-language forums, but just recently high-ranking members have actually been given authorization by administrators to host forum-wide contests, such as Nulled’s CS: GO competition.

At First, it’s likely more crucial for the forum administrators to utilize and control competitions as a method of acquiring brand-new members and creating a sense of neighborhood. When the online forums later on become more recognized, such as Nulled, which just recently hit the three-million-member mark, they might be more prone to loosen the reins and let members they trust host the contest, as a method to improve the sense of neighborhood.

CS: GO competition arranged by a high-ranking member on Nulled

The future of English-language cybercriminal competitors

It’s tough to state what the road ahead will resemble for competitions on English-language forums. Provided time and resources, will they ultimately follow the Russian-language forum competitors’ trajectory? More than likely not.

BitsHacking online forum is among the few forums to have established routine competitors over a prolonged duration, following the Russian-language pattern of enjoyable contests turning into tournaments that focus on participants’ abilities and promise a bigger cash prize. BitsHacking still fell victim to what has been the bane of numerous English-language cybercriminal forums: lack of exercise.

Competitors on the forum were hosted less and less frequently during 2017 and 2018, the last year it hosted competitions. They then disappeared totally, perhaps owing to the online forum’s members becoming more inactive and the community picking to go to greener pastures.

With such behavior a routine incident in the English-language cybercriminal community, the English-language forums will most likely stick to the present competition model they have, for the foreseeable future. The smaller sized online forums will most likely be more prone to hosting “fun” competitors to attract members and feed community spirit.

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