One can find various sites inaccessible from the surface web on the dark web, including black markets, leak sites, hacker forums, and many more sites, all of which have diverse content. Sometimes to recruit new members into their teams and promote their business/site, Dark Web threat actors organize hacking competitions, pen-testing (penetration testing) competitions, and other interesting events in hacker forums. An article competition is one of the perfect examples of this.
In November 2018, an article-writing competition was announced in a popular Russian hacker forum on the Dark Web.
The announcement was made directly by the admin of the hacker forum in Russian. The prize pool for the first competition was $1000. The SOCRadar CTIA team thinks that the initial goal of the admin was to increase interaction within the forum and recruit new members to the admin’s team.
It’s obvious that the prize pool was pretty low; however, the prize pool substantially increased in the following article competitions. Eventually rising to “$40,000”.
7 Article Competitions Held So Far in 2022
After the first one, the article competition became a tradition and was held about twice a year. As of May 2022, there are six completed competitions, and the 7th one currently continues.
The competitions were mainly offensive-oriented. A wide range of offensive topics was accepted and encouraged, from new hacking methods to developing malware, developing phishing schemes to discovering zero-day vulnerabilities. Below is a list of accepted and encouraged topics in the first competition.
After the first one had ended, the forum admin decided to continue holding article competitions, and the second contest was announced. Nothing much changed between the first and the second, other than that the prize pool was increased to $2000. The aim still was to bring action and interaction into the forum and recruit potential group members into the admin’s team.
And Ransomware Groups Start Sponsoring
Starting with the third one, traditional article competitions began being sponsored, and the prize pool has considerably increased. The notorious REvil ransomware group behind the disastrous Kaseya attack on July 2, 2021, was the main sponsor of the third competition. Below, you can see the prize pool for the third competition.
You can see that the REvil gang also proposes the opportunity to work with the REvil gang to successful contenders. This supports the idea that these competitions are being held to recruit potential threat actors.
In the fourth competition, the main sponsor was another major ransomware group, the LockBit gang. We see that the prize pool maintains its previous value, $15,000. In this competition, the main sponsor LockBit gang, states that they will additionally reward contenders whose articles they like. They say they are mainly interested in articles about crypto lockers and networks.
The fact that famous ransomware gangs sponsored the competition back to back in the third and the fourth competition shows us that the traditional article competition became very popular among threat actors, and even ransomware gangs are interested in the contest itself.
In the fifth contest, we see that the main sponsor is one of the active forum members. The competition is very similar to the previous ones; we do not observe significant changes in the contest.
Black Markets Advertise the Article Competition
Like the previous contests, the point of interest in the sixth competition was its main sponsor. The sponsor was a stolen credit card black market. SOCRadar CTIA team thinks that their primary goal in sponsoring the contest is to promote their business and the black market. The same black market previously (August 2021) shared a dataset containing 1 million stolen credit cards (the highest number of shared credit cards yet) to promote their business.
Lastly, the seventh contest was announced on March 14, 2022, and it will continue accepting articles until July 1, 2022.
In the seventh contest, the most significant change is the prize pool, increasing to $40,000 from $15,000.
Things are getting serious as the contest becomes a tradition and the interest in the competitions increases in each subsequent contest.
The sponsor of the seventh contest, another active forum user, says that if he likes an article, he will be offering a highly paid job in his team to the owner.
He also comments on the post that he will make special offers to the contenders whose articles he likes.
In all seven article contests, the accepted topics were offensive-oriented. Because the contests aim to function as a recruiting process for the sponsors and the forum’s admin. In addition to recruiting, there were also promoting and advertising purposes, and the aim to further develop the forum.
So, what does the future hold for the traditional article competition? Based on the previous contests and the gradual increase in popularity, we can safely say the contests will definitely get more and more popular.