The most popular instant messaging platforms with cyber criminals
are Skype, Jabber and ICQ, according to a new report released
Meanwhile, consumer-grade platforms like AOL Instant Messenger
and Yahoo IM have fallen out of favor, while newer, more secure
consumer oriented platforms like Telegram and WhatsApp are also
The newer platforms are more user-friendly and more convenient,
but also offer greater security, said Leroy Terrelonge, Director
of Middle East and Africa Research at Flashpoint, which recently
released a report about the communication platforms cyber
criminals have been using over the past four years.
The research is based on discussions conducted on hundreds of
underground communities by thousands of members, in which the
participants mentioned the instant messaging platforms they were
While the underground forums are home to some general
discussions, it’s the instant messaging channels where the really
serious conversations and planning take place, Terrelonge said.
And the general direction of movement is towards more encrypted,
more secure platforms — both because the cyber criminals are
becoming more security conscious, and also because the general
public is, too, and the popular tools are evolving as a result.
“In the past, secure tools existed, but they were clunkier and
were niche, for nerds and geeks,” he said. “Now that they’re made
it a lot more user-friendly, even people who are not technically
adept tend to use them. Even some of the applications that were
not as security minded before have moved their platforms to
One high-profile example of that is WhatsApp, he said, which is
now a top messaging platform with the general public — and has
Convenience is often the most important consideration, however.
Skype, for example, does not offer end-to-end encryption.
“But Skype is pretty global,” he said. “If you say, ‘Let’s
connect on Skype,’ chances are that the other person will already
have it on their system.”
Skype was the second most popular messaging platform in 2012 with
the Russian underground, according to the report, and rose to
first place at the end of 2016.
With English-language communities, Skype was in first place both
in 2012 and in 2016. After Skype, the other two most popular
platforms with cyber criminals today are Jabber and ICQ.
Jabber is a free, secure, open-source, decentralized platform
that is in second place in both the Russian and English-language
criminal underground. With the elite Russian forums, however,
Jabber is in first place.
“The Russian elite cyber criminals are using Jabber as their
preferred IM system,” Terrelonge said. “It’s something that’s
been around for many years, and is theoretically, as far as
anyone knows, unbreakable.”
The third-place network, ICQ, has been losing ground among the
general public, and even in Russia, its stronghold, ICQ’s
popularity has dropped from…