Avoid hiring a cybercriminal: understand motivations and thoroughly vet employees

After a FireEye intern was found selling his own custom RAT on a dark web forum, industry experts reemphasize the importance of understanding cybercrime and how to hire the right people.
After a FireEye intern was found selling his own custom RAT on a dark web forum, industry experts reemphasize the importance of understanding cybercrime and how to hire the right people.

The “Darkode” online crime forum bust spanned 20 countries and led to the charges, arrests and searches of 70 suspected forum members.

While all the indicted individuals allegedly participated in illegal activities, one man received particular attention.

Morgan Culbertson, a 20-year-old and current FireEye intern with two stints at the company on his resume, was arrested in association with the forum.

During his time at the cybersecurity firm, Culbertson spent his days not only working on a dedicated “intern project,” for which FireEye hires the students, but also allegedly running a successful, darker side business.

Culbertson is said to be the creator behind and seller of the notorious “Dendroid” Android remote access tool (RAT), which he advertised on Darkode for $300. Its source code fetched far more, with a price of $65,000, Forbes indicated

FireEye immediately revoked all access to its building and systems when it found out about the arrest, the company said in a statement to SCMagazine.com.

But even still, experts note that Culbertson's work at FireEye likely assisted in the creation of his successful RAT by giving him a peek into the defense's side. 

However, they also say the two are not directly correlated. Making the move over to “the dark side” requires more than a nagging interest; it's a mix of desire for compensation, recognition and the pursuit of intellectual happiness, Katie Moussouris, chief policy officer at HackerOne told SCMagazine.com.

“[The Culbertson news] doesn't surprise me at all,” Moussouris said. “Everybody's got a mix of motivations and different ways their moral compass may point. It might point in the same way that yours does or it might point in a different direction.”

And given Culbertson's age, his compass will likely change. Long-term consequences aren't exactly top of mind for a 20-year-old, Joe Nedelec, an assistant professor in criminology at the University of Cincinnati, said during an interview with SCMagazine.com.

“[The more I study cybercrime] the more I've seen that there's this real witches brew of young people with immense talent and a great temptation to go over to areas of the dark web and try it out,” Nedelec said.

Add in a perceived notion of anonymity, and really, the desire to explore, create and sell doesn't seem too harmful to a cybercriminal's future, he said.

“He's creating security software [at FireEye] to fight people like himself, and that can only make his malware better,” Nedelec said. “But really, I think that there's a personality thing going on here. These guys have so much confidence in their skills to remain anonymous online that they can sort of drift into that area of criminality, such as on the dark web.”

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