Even hackers need to pull customers in. Part of that may be writing forum threads advertising their services, giving out ‘review’ copies of their tools, or getting other hackers to vouch for them. But one staple of underground forums is ridiculously over the top, 90s style banner ads, designed to grab the attention of potentially interested cybercriminals.

The adverts are “somewhat of a throwback to an older way of developing websites,” Harrison Van Riper, senior analyst in intelligence development at cybersecurity firm Digital Shadows told Motherboard in an email. “You look at modern web design, you don’t see a lot of flashy banner advertisements like this, it’s very much an old school way to present content. Since a lot of these sites advocate the hacker lifestyle, these ads are call backs to earlier times.”

Motherboard is presenting a sample of some of the most audacious and straight-up bizarre hacking adverts, pulled from a variety of underground sites selling stolen credit card details, botnets, fake identity documents, hacker-for-hire services, and bitcoin laundering services. Motherboard does not condone any of the services offered here, and is sharing them as a slice of criminal hacker culture. Don’t buy from them if you enjoy not being indicted.

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The sites Motherboard pulled the adverts from are not on the so-called dark web, a small collection of sites that typically use the Tor anonymity network to protect the location of their servers and users. Instead, these were all taken from sites that don’t require special software to access—a common misconception is that most criminal activity happens somewhere on the dark web, when in reality, you may just need to know the correct domain for a crime site, which is often easily a Google search away.

“Banner ads seem to be a lot more prevalent on clear web forums, which could be because of the more skeptical nature of the dark web/Tor user who probably aren’t going to click randomly and, depending on their browser settings, may not see them. Normal browser users are more likely to be using JavaScript and may or may not have ad blockers installed,” Van Riper added.

Got a tip? You can contact this reporter securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

The adverts riff on politicians like Donald Trump; reference icons such as Jimi Hendrix, or popular culture symbols, including the mask from hacking TV show Mr. Robot. Anything that could grab attention, or project a hacker lifestyle onto potential clients.

However the adverts can also benefit scammers. Say you want to impersonate another successful service, or just rip people off, scammers need to entice customers just like anyone else. Van Riper said Digital Shadows has seens sections of some forums which suggest some of the ads are not legitimate; Motherboard has seen similar reports on lower-level Russian crime forums.

But who is making these adverts anyway? Often, it will be the owner of the service or forum cobbling them together themselves, Van Riper said. In other cases, some forum users do offer ad creation as a service in and of itself, although this seems less prevalent, he added.

“There are several free and paid for tools that you can use online to create these types of ads. Unless there was a great amount of extensive work going into the ad (complex drawings or other embedded code), I imagine it would be relatively straight forward graphics creation,” Van Riper said.

All the same, enjoy these adverts that hearken back to a simpler time for the internet.



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