Online gambling, among other things, involves the daily movement of huge amounts of money and the fact that it has oftentimes been targeted by hackers probably does not strike as such a big surprise. However, it is rather surprising and even shocking that particular iGaming-related acts of cybercrime have remained unobstructed for quite some time now and that involved online gambling operators and competent regulators have either not been informed about the issue, or have found it less painstaking to act as an issue does not exist.
It has been for years now that websites of different nature have been hit by cyber attacks and have been turned into tools for illegal gambling-related practices. It is believed that a notorious hacker (or a group of hackers) has been behind the attacks and that their purpose has been for said notorious hacker to develop a profitable iGaming affiliate marketing business by luring potential gambling customers from the affected websites to the websites of different iGaming brands. Other affiliates, ones that have preferred to abide by laws and regulations, have raised the issue on multiple occasions, but have not been paid much attention to.
Another thing that strikes as particularly important and equally shocking is the fact that there have been multiple indications that the hacker has been working with major affiliate programs, such as Buffalo Partners, despite the latter’s consistent denial, and major online gambling brands, such as 888 and Betway; or at least the hacker has not been prevented from carrying on with their illicit approaches.
It can even be suggested that some of the industry’s biggest stakeholders may be building their playerbases by receiving players through illicit activities and may be funding those illicit activities.
Last but not least, it is important to note that Betway and 888 are licensed by the broadly respected UK Gambling Commission, but the regulator has so far failed taking any actions to sanction the apparent and continuous violations of its licensees.
With this piece, Casino News Daily, as a news outlet and an iGaming affiliate, aims to raise certain important questions to the discussed parties and to hopefully receive adequate answers to those. We would also like to point out that we can provide the UK Gambling Commission with evidence to our claims and that our intention is not to mar anyone’s reputation, but to draw more attention to a long-existing issue within the iGaming space.
A Gentlemen’s Agreement or While Their Eyes Are Closed – Are Major Gambling Operators Working with Hackers?
Casino News Daily recently reported that Betway Partners, the affiliate program for iGaming operator Betway, has delivered its revenue sharing affiliate accounts to Buffalo Partners. And Buffalo Partners, an affiliate program with long history in the iGaming industry and murky past, has over the years been openly attacked for working with a notorious hacker or at least for not obstructing the hacker’s actions. Here it is also important to note that said notorious hacker has deployed similar techniques, attacking different websites and referring traffic to Buffalo Partners’ brands.
We cannot say that we are talking about one and the same person here. But it is apparent that Buffalo Partners and Betway do not seem concerned about the fact that their names have been involved in several instances of cybercrime. It is also apparent that affiliate hackers have been left to profit from someone else’s intellectual property and operators have been left to profit from affiliate hackers’ lack of proper perception of what is legally and morally right.
It can be seen that 888 is the other major iGaming operator and UK Gambling Commission licensee promoted by the notorious hacker. The gambling regulator recently slapped a record £7.8-million fine on the gambling group for poor responsible gambling controls. However, the operator apparently needs to be scolded further for intentionally or unintentionally facilitating serious acts of crime and even reaping significant financial benefits from those crimes.
It remains unclear whether the above-mentioned iGaming brands, as well as multiple others, are working together with affiliate hackers, are well-aware that their services are promoted by criminals but are not concerned about the seriousness of the matter, or are simply blissfully ignorant about the dark ways of affiliate marketing. However, that attitude of a blissful ignoramus costs money to law- and rule-abiding affiliates while benefiting law-violating individuals and maybe even larger-scale illegal activities such as money laundering and terrorism financing.
The Hacking Attacks Explained
As mentioned above and in the context of our industry, affected websites are usually hacked in a similar manner. In the first place, it is important to say a few words of explanation about which websites are most likely to be attacked by hackers. It can be said that web pages built with obsolete Joomla! and WordPress versions are particularly vulnerable to such attacks.
Hackers usually opt for websites with good search engine ranks so that they can easily rank their own doorway pages. This is why we can often see school and university web pages, for instance, affected by such attacks. These rank well in Google and other search engines and are, on the other hand, rarely updated and poorly maintained. It is also important to note that Google News websites have also been massively targeted over the past several months as they could be excellent source of traffic.
In some instances, hackers use the iframe html tag to insert content from their own websites into other websites. In the above-described instances, the hacker, who also happens to be an iGaming affiliate, has embedded an iframe tag that automatically directs visitors of the affected website to the hacker’s website. Thus, the hacker is building traffic, referring players to online gambling operators, and eventually accomplishing the desired goal of earning money; money that other affiliates are trying to earn by complying with rules and laws and by investing a huge amount of time and effort.
A hacker may also change an affected webpage’s html code in a manner that sends visitors directly to websites of online gambling operators through affiliate links.
The Continued Lack of Proper Actions and Who Should Be Held Responsible
The online gambling industry has been growing at a rapid pace everywhere in the world over the past several years. In Europe, in particular, the online gambling market was valued at around €14.3 billion by research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. Last year, online gaming and sports betting became UK’s largest gambling sector, generating gross gambling yield of nearly £4.5 billion (approximately €5 billion) in the period between October 2015 and September 2016.
The growth of the iGaming industry has caught the attention of EU regulators and authorities in individual member states. As a result, more and more EU jurisdictions have been adopting proper regulatory frameworks to monitor closely the industry’s expansion and to ensure that online gambling services are provided in a legal and socially responsible manner, among other things.
EU authorities and multiple regulatory bodies from within regulated jurisdictions cooperate in regulating not only iGaming markets but also the general provision of both online and land-based gambling services. We refer particularly to the European Union as some of the world’s largest regulated online gambling jurisdictions are part of it. However, it is important to note that proper controls are supposed to have been taken in all regulated jurisdictions in all parts of the world.
Here comes the question who is to blame that a notorious hacker is left to attack websites of different nature and to thus grow a profitable iGaming affiliate business? And who is to blame that licensed gambling operators are allowed to work knowingly or unknowingly with that hacker for so long? It is important to note that this issue exist in the affiliate space for years now.
Under EU Directives, hacking attacks are considered cybercrime. And under those same Directives cybercrime is considered and penalized as an organized crime activity. Aside from EU authorities, governments, law enforcement authorities and regulatory bodies of the individual member states are also tasked with the prevention of cybercrime activities, the criminal prosecution of violators and with sanctioning other involved parties in a proper manner.
As already explained, the above-mentioned hacked websites redirect visitors to iGaming affiliate websites that feature exclusive offers for playing at online casinos, offers that many potential players could find particularly attractive.
Here it is also important to note that the hacker/affiliate is trying to lure players into playing at the online casinos of some of the world’s largest gambling operators, including Betway and 888 Holdings. Both operators hold licenses from the UK Gambling Commission, known to be one of the regulators with the greatest reputation in our industry.
One of the main principles of the UKGC is to “keep crime out of gambling”. Ensuring the provision of crime-free gambling services is also responsibility of the Commission’s licensees. However, as we can see, at least two of its licensees have failed to do so and have been failing to abide by that principle for quite some time now.
Betway is also holding a license from the Malta Gaming Authority. Malta has long been considered a visionary and innovator when it comes to licensure. Keeping the industry clean from “crime, fraud, and money laundering” has always been one of the regulators main objectives.
Both Betway and 888 are licensed in a number of other regulated jurisdictions across Europe. And there is no doubt that all those jurisdictions have, in theory, developed frameworks for the most effective prevention of cybercrime and gambling-related crimes, as a whole. However, it seems that authorities and gambling regulators have failed to put those frameworks in practice.
Casino News Daily is not trying to ruin anyone’s reputation. We only require answers from those responsible why clear violators of multiple national and international laws have been facilitated in carrying on with their criminal activities.
A hacker or a group of hackers has been allowed to earn money to the detriment of a number of other parties. It is not fair to search engine users who are looking for adequate information about a topic of their choice. It is not fair to other iGaming affiliates who invest time, efforts, and money in order to present an attractive product to this highly competitive market. And it is not fair to online players and bettors, who deserve a safe and crime-free gambling environment.
Terry Davis holds a degree in Psychology, but it was after his graduation that he found his real passion – writing. Previously, he worked for a local news magazine.