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Cyber criminals in Nigeria have moved beyond traditional "419" phishing attacks to now target businessesReuters

Nigeria-based scammers have evolved from common malware campaigns to advanced tools used by sophisticated criminal and espionage groups, according to a new report.

The 419 Evolution report, published by the Palo Alto Networks threat intelligence team, describes how cyber criminals in Nigeria are using their expanded skills to steal business-critical data from enterprises, rather than simply collecting credit card details or personal information from individuals through "419" phishing scams.

The new techniques, code-named Silver Spaniel by the researchers, are similar to those used by Eastern European hackers or hostile espionage groups.

"These Silver Spaniel malware activities originate in Nigeria and employ tactics, techniques and procedures similar to one another," said Ryan Olson, an intelligence director at Palo Alto Networks.

"The actors don't show a high level of technical acumen, but represent a growing threat to businesses that have not previously been their primary targets."

The report details the transition of one particular individual from 419 scammer to Silver Spaniel operator.

nigerian scammer Palo Alto report
'Engr' Ojie Victor consulted social networks to help with his scam Palo Alto Networks

'Engr.' Ojie Victor came to the attention of Palo Alto Networks investigators when he posted a comment on the website using his Facebook account. In it he solicits advice on techniques used to launch malware attacks.

Victor's past online activity was tracked and it was discovered that he had previously been involved in 419 scams on numerous US and Canadian dating sites.

It is estimated by Dutch investigation firm Ultrascan that Nigeria-based cyber crime is costing around $9.3 billion (£5.5bn) globally each year.