All of the Internet technology, with its enormously vast high-tech resources, were rapidly and productively deployed by Russian criminal groups. The mafia organizations present in the former communist giant have unfortunately grown and are growing every year, pervasively penetrating the ganglion of Russian economy and society.
The ‘traditional’ businesses have always been the black market (noted as already flourishing richly at the time of the USSR), the management of prostitution, car theft, extortion, and of course the deadly drug trafficking, especially of heroin that draws freely from the poppy flowers planted in the Afghan plains.
Over time the Russian mafias have presented themselves under the guise of mere facade companies in the public competition for contracts, in the bidding for the sale of former state-owned companies and most recently they have infiltrated the rich business for the works for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
It is to be noted that the opulent chunk that the Sochi Olympics offered had also caused a lot of friction between local gangs and the powerful mafia in Moscow. It goes without saying that the World Cup in Russia in 2018 could be the new alluring dish of mafia organizations, on a table already ‘laden’ with dozens of criminal and illegal activities. For some years now these have been boosted by new revenues generated by the opportunities of cyber crime; for the Russian mafija in fact, where similarly, as we will see later for the Mexican mafia organizations, the domestic market is only a portion, although important, of a gigantic 360 degrees business, a truly globalized business dedicated to traditional crimes and cyber crimes.
Indeed it is especially with the spread of the Internet network that the very strong activities of hacker groups on the Internet have developed, for example (but not only) by doing business through identity theft, data theft and scams on credit cards. The cyber mafias study, evolve, make investments in the field of high-tech and then recruit exceptionally high-profile, qualified staff or find a way to blackmail those who are in key positions in the information technology sectors. Hiring computer specialists and the simultaneous recruitment of hackers also allows cyber mafias to enter and work especially in deep web, the ‘dark area’ of the Internet, ‘parallel network’ to the public one of Internet that we use every day. But what is deep web? According to Richard Brouse, of London University: “deep web, also referred to as under net or dark net, is estimated to be 450 times the size of the World Wide Web, it does not have any search engines and is one of the main systems used by criminal organizations for their trafficking”.
In Russia, the so-called Russian Business Network (RBN), emerges without a doubt as being prominent cyber–mafija, and is a ramified organization fully dedicated to cyber-crime. Founded in 2006 as a classic ISP (Internet Service Provider), thus operating in legal areas, RBN has then gradually grown, widening the range of its actions by means of partners and affiliates in many countries outside of Russia, taking enormous advantage of Internet for investing massively in illegal activities, and has become one of the protagonists in the dark world of cyber crime. RBN has also become specialized in the theft of personal data with which it has created, as reported by the police, a sort of rich trading desk for their resale. The victims of computer crimes consequently came to attention in very many countries. RBN is active across the entire range of terminology which defines cyber-crimes: spamming, phishing, malware, denial of services, which are, in order: data theft, virus outbreaks, blocking of websites. Its ubiquitous activity is the laundering of dirty money, which allows the RBN to reinvest the money of illegal origin.
Technology combined with the creation of fictitious companies ‘cover’ the fluxes of activity on the web and on deep web and make it extremely difficult to trace the perpetrators of the attacks and of cyber crimes. In fact, according to the security data agencies’ sector, the RBN is ‘the most dangerous organization dedicated to cyber crime’ because it moves only in the dark zone of the network, on deep web, on which they can render untraceable the PCs and servers from which the illegal actions issue.
Equally dangerous and powerful mafia organizations, are the Solntsevo brigade (brigades of the Sun), which takes its name from the Moscow district of Solncevskaja; the Izmailovskaja brigade and the Tambovskaja brigade are also very active and well organized. They have strong ties with the Ukrainian mafia gangs, demonstrating even in recent times (as already happened in the Balkan wars of the Nineties) that business criminals certainly do not have boundaries of any kind, but rather thrive even more in times of war and chaos. According to intelligence sources it seems that some groups of hackers, in the pay of mafia gangs, were used in the summer of 2008 for cyber attacks against the institutional websites of the Republic of Georgia, during the brief war between that nation and Russia.
As the Russian law enforcement agencies and also Interpol and Europol denounce, the Russian mafija also increasingly use the so-called virtual currency, Bitcoin. The use of the Web has made it possible to greatly facilitate the laundering of the proceeds from illegal trafficking, mainly from the sale of drugs. Some data speak very clearly: at least 70 tons of Afghan heroin are marketed in Russia every year and this is only part of the drug that arrives in Russia.
The invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by the Red Army, the ensuing long period of bloody civil conflict and the arrival of the Taliban have made Afghanistan one of the biggest manufacturers of heroin worldwide.
The heroin industry has grown both during the terrible intestinal clashes of 1992-96 and with the coming to power of the Taliban, as well as during the recent intervention of international forces. The production of this heroin still follows two main roads, one through the Balkans and Turkey to reach Europe and the other directly in Russia, through the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The enormous amount of Afghan heroin is managed by the Russian mafija with its cyber-criminal structures in connection with the former Soviet republics, since the links with the local mafias in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where the Afghan heroin transits, are widespread. The Russian mafias are very strong then in the pseudo-state of Transnistria (in fact one of the narco-states on European soil); here real and genuine ‘mafia branches’ have been opened to handle the traffic. In fact, in the city of Tiraspol, in southern Transnistria, operating systems of the powerful Solncevo brigade reside permanently in which, in connection with complicit local authorities and along with the Balkan mafia, crimes and cyber-crimes are committed, in areas such as arms trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, nuclear materials and military technologies. (M.L.)