Cybercrime is a major concern for companies of all sizes, from brand new startups to established international corporations. With so many high profile breaches over the last decade, the threat is as obvious as it is ever-present.
When stories like the Equifax breach hit the news, it’s hard to ignore the ramifications that can come from an attack on your online resources. However, the understanding that problems can and do arise doesn’t necessarily result in true knowledge of what can happen to a company as the result of cybercrime.
As good company leaders know, the way to fight back against the rise in online scams and threats isn’t to stick your head in the sand and hope for the best. By staying educated on the risks and consequences as well as adopting a prudent approach to cybersecurity, companies can prepare themselves for whatever the future may hold.
What Is Cybercrime?
Cybercrime simply refers to any sort of criminal activity that occurs on the internet and is directed toward computers or networks. The objective of most internet criminal attacks is financial in nature; individuals and organizations seek to exploit private information in order to steal credit card or bank account information or to hold data ransom, for example.
Some attacks may have other motives, like exposing information companies or platform users wished to keep private. Take, for example, the Ashley Madison breach in 2015. Ashley Madison, a dating website for married individuals seeking extramarital affairs, was hacked. Rather than going after financial records specifically, the group behind the breach made the choice to leak the information of site users for the purpose of shaming married individuals seeking outside partnerships.
Regardless of motivations, cybercrime can be a huge problem for businesses, both in terms of financial stability and reputation.
Where Does Cybercrime Come From?
Cybercrime originates from many sources depending on the circumstances of an attack. Some cyber attacks are carried out by individuals with personal goals, like learning proprietary information about a company’s operations or stealing identities for financial purposes, while others are conducted by criminal or vigilante groups with similar goals. Other cyber attacks are acts of terror carried out by organized groups against military or government networks. In other cases, cybercrime may be the result of a desire for mass chaos.
In general, motive doesn’t play a strong role in the effects of cybercrime. As nothing good can come of an attack, protection against any kind of intruder is the best stance.
Types of Cybercrime
The concept of cybercrimes is broad and far-reaching, referring to a number of different attacks versus one sole way to penetrate a company’s computers or networks. The most common forms of cybercrimes include:
- Hackers: Hackers are a human threat. These individuals attempt to breach computers and networks by exploiting vulnerabilities within a company’s servers, software use, or other avenues. Hackers can use forms of malware, depending on end goals.
- Malware: Malware is a blanket term to cover a variety of malicious software and malicious code with the intention of breaching or corrupting a computer or network. Spyware and trojans are forms of malware.
- Trojans: Trojans are a form of malware that is disguised as an actual software application. When downloaded, a trojan creates a backdoor into a system that criminals can then use to steal sensitive information. Trojans come in numerous different forms depending on the end objective of the user.
- Ransomware: Another form of malware, a ransomware attack can originate from phishing emails or illegitimate downloads and will essentially hold a computer or network hostage until a ransom is paid.
- Bots: An automated form of attack, bots infect a computer in order to gain access to a server in a way that leads to a whole network of compromised computers known as a botnets. With this kind of control, criminals can then flood a system to cause maximum damage across a company’s entire technology structure.
- Phishing attacks: Phishing is an email or social media scam in which users receive emails or messages from seemingly-legitimate senders that contain links or attachments that are actually malware. When recipients click on these benign-looking features, malware will be downloaded onto the computer, creating vulnerabilities. To make this obvious, many companies now have an automated way to mark emails from external senders so that employees will not be fooled by an address that appears to be from within the company.
- DDoS Attacks: Short for distributed denial-of-service, DDoS attacks use large amounts of traffic to bring down a website or server. In essence, this creates a sort of traffic jam: when too much traffic is directed to a site or server in a way that overloads capabilities, legitimate users are shut out. These denial of service attacks can be particularly challenging for cloud users as this kind of action is intended to interfere with internet-based server activity.
Numerous sub-variations exist within each category of criminal event, creating a rich tapestry of threats that companies must actively work to prevent.
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What Do Cyber Attackers Do With the Information They Collect?
What cyber attackers do with the information they gain from their actions depends on overall goals and the information received. In some cases, criminals may use financial details to siphon money from bank accounts or use credit cards for personal gain. In others, they may use customer information to steal identities in order to achieve financial gain, like opening new credit cards or taking out loans using another person’s social security number.
When terrorists are involved in cyber attacks, information may be the primary goal. A terrorist group from another country may be interested in penetrating government or military databases in order to learn about confidential security details or future military action plans.
Some criminal networks may also hack networks to prove a point; for example, a criminal group may choose to hack a government organization simply to prove how ineffective or inefficient protections are in order to warn citizens. However, this kind of attack is far rarer than one intended to cause damage.
Cybercrimes in the Public Eye
Over the last decades, there have been many examples of large companies that have found themselves a victim of cybercrime. In recent years, the most notable case has been the Equifax breach.
In September 2017, Equifax fell victim to a mass-scale data breach that compromised the personal information of 147 million Americans – a large portion of the adult population. The company is still keeping many of the details of the breach under wraps, but the source of the issue appears to be related to a flaw in a tool used for internet application development called Apache Struts. While issues are always a possibility, Equifax admitted knowledge of the flaws in their platform a full two months prior to the breach – a significant violation of customer trust. Apache Struts is used by many other companies and government agencies, creating the likelihood for a problem of this caliber on a widespread level.
Equifax’s reputation was damaged beyond repair, and the financial costs of the issue aren’t small, either. In a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Equifax is responsible for expenditures of up to $425 million to cover the ramifications for those affected. The company is still attempting to navigate the situation, providing cash payments and credit monitoring services in an attempt to right their wrongs.
The Equifax breach is among the largest issues in history, but they aren’t the first major player to find themselves under fire: the same happened to Anthem insurance company in 2015, eBay in 2014, and Yahoo! and Target in 2013. With these events in mind, it should be clear that no company is immune, no matter the size or scale.
The Cost of Cybercrime
Think cybercrime is a small issue? It’s not. On a national scale, cybercrime is very costly, resulting in billions of extraneous expenditures on an annual basis. In 2018, this cost exceeded $600 billion USD worldwide – an absolutely astronomical amount, dwarfing the GDP of many countries around the globe.
The cost of cybercrime at an organizational level is also extreme: on average, companies pay $13 million per breach – $1.4 million over the prior year. For smaller companies, these kinds of expenses can be prohibitively costly, standing in the way of regular operations. For those who don’t make protection a priority, it’s possible that one bad attack could bring the company down for good.
How Do You Recognize Cybercrime?
So, you know cybercrime is a problem? But how do you know it’s coming?
There are many forms of cyber attacks, so keeping an eye out for all of them can be a lengthy process best handled by professionals. However, many major forms of attacks can be recognized fairly easily based on the most common forms of threats.
For example, phishing emails are popular due to the ease of use. These emails appear to come from legitimate senders. However, when links within emails are clicked or attachments are downloaded, a virus or other form of malware can be installed on your computer and, from there, infect an entire network. Other attacks from from downloading software from unknown locations. If a website you are visiting requests a software download to continue using features, for example, there’s a good chance this download will actually be a virus. Only download programs from legitimate and verified internet sites.
Some forms of attacks are far less blatant and may only be noticed on the back end by network administrators and IT professionals monitoring security logs. Things like unusual spikes in behaviors or logins from unknown locations at unusual times can be a sign of a potential attack.
The Effects of Cybercrime
Cybercrime can have very serious and long-reaching effects, affecting your company, your customers, and even your industry, depending on the extent of an attack. While the specific consequences will vary cases to case, these are some of the most common ramifications of cybercrime:
- Financial damages: As the main goal for many hackers and cyber criminals, cyber attacks can lead to large financial losses. This can come from damaged networks or from theft.
- Compromised information: Hacking often leaves your information vulnerable to criminals, compromising things like customer bank account and social security numbers. This can create serious issues, putting the future of your business at risk due to theft.
- Legal damages: For companies that must abide by things like HIPAA or any kind of SEC oversight, for example, compromising customer information can be a serious problem that may result in legal fines and other penalties. This can result in legal costs and other expenses that may be unaffordable for smaller companies.
- Ruined reputation: When your system is breached and customer information is compromised, it’s very likely that your customer base will start to pull away from you. If you can’t fulfill customer trust, you’re not going to be an appealing partner.
What Is Cyber Law and Cyber Law Enforcement?
Cyber law is a blanket term that refers to any kind of legislation or regulations that apply to online activities. One of the newer aspects of the legal system and law enforcement, cyber law intends to protect users by imposing laws on unscrupulous activity, like cyber attacks. Cyber laws enforced by law enforcement fall into three broad categories:
- Crimes Against People: These are crimes against individuals and include things like stalking, cyber harassment, child pornography, credit card fraud, spoofing, identity theft, trafficking, and slander. How these laws are enforced by law enforcement apply can vary from one location to another and may be classified as either misdemeanors or felonies
- Crimes Against Property: Crimes against property refer to cyber attacks that are specifically intended to damage property, like computers or servers. DDoS attacks, for example, are considered crimes against property due to the negative consequences these kinds of attacks have on servers and networks. Other crimes include viruses, hacking, vandalism, and copyright infringement.
- Crimes Against Government: Crimes against government involve cyber attacks and other criminal methods that harm the government. These attacks are often taken far more seriously as they are considered a potential breach of national security and, potentially, an act of war. These crimes include things like hacking and viruses, cyber terrorism, accessing any kind of confidential information, and pirated software theft. Law enforcement takes crimes against government very seriously.
Cyber law can be problematic due to the ever-changing state of technology. New approaches to attacks are utilized every day, and it’s often a possibility that laws will not adequately cover these new evolutions. While law enforcement agencies work as hard as they can to stay up to date, the legal system isn’t necessarily known for speed or efficiency, leaving a gap between the protections web users need and the actual laws covering illegal or questionable behaviors.
The recent trends in cyber law include far more stringent standards with a focus on encompassing as many threats and cases of fraud as possible, even in the face of creativity from cyber criminals. For those who suspect serious issues in need of immediate cybercrime investigation, the Internet Crime Complaints Center provides a simple, streamlined way to report potential problems for FBI or even homeland security examination.
The Evolving State of Cybersecurity
Due to the increasing presence of cyber criminals and the major challenges faced by companies like Equifax and Target, cyber security is now more important than ever. Countless colleges and universities are offering specific courses of study and degree programs for cyber security, emphasizing the importance of combating cyber crime to protect data and networks online.
If your company doesn’t employ a cyber security protocol, particularly if you have significant web-based services, like cloud computing, doing so is essential to moving your company forward.
If the serious implications of cybercrime and cyber fraud frighten you, you aren’t alone. While the likelihood of an Equifax-scale breach is very small for most companies, there are plenty of smaller threats out there that can result in devastating consequences. Even if you don’t believe your company is at risk, protective measures to combat cybercrime are absolutely essential.
- Emphasize Employee Education: You need to have faith in your employees – after all, you wouldn’t have hired them if you didn’t see the merit in their abilities – but taking the right approach to security is something all team members should be a part of. As such, keeping your employees up to date on threats, like not opening emails from unknown senders, not downloading suspicious attachments, or not posting too much information on social media, is an important part of protection. Password education is also critical; making sure employees know how to create a strong passwords and the importance of frequent changes can be paramount to strong security.
- Choose the Right Technology: More goes into preventing viruses and other attacks than running a simple anti-virus software. Everything, from out of date software to lesser hardware, can impact the vulnerability of your business. Be sure to keep all technology up to date, including the latest operating systems and current versions of all software in use. Update mobile phones and computers on a regular basis. Utilize encryption standards to protect the data on your servers and activate firewalls to bolster defenses, as well as implementing things like two-factor authentication.
- Get Professional Support: If cyber security isn’t an area of expertise for you, partnering with a pro may be the best course of action. A cyber security expert can help you identify vulnerabilities, create protection plans, and monitor your systems for unusual activity. For those who invest in cloud computing resources, many private cloud providers offer comprehensive packages that include cyber security, ensuring a customized private cloud experience
So You Think Your Company Can’t Be Hacked?
Many companies believe they can’t be hacked for any number of reasons, from being a small and relatively insignificant organization that has no value to offer hackers to using a particular form of operating system to unbeatable defenses. In spite of this, any company is at risk for being hacked or otherwise falling victim to cybercrime. No one is safe, which is why cyber security is a booming business. If you want to protect yourself, you need to take the proper steps to do so.
For those who want to protect information and business assets, the right approach to cyber security is absolutely critical. Without proper protection, it’s possible to lose money, customer information, and, ultimately, the respect of your community. By partnering with a provider who can keep you covered, no matter your industry, your personal goals, or any applicable industry regulations, you can keep your company as secure as possible in the changing face of cyber security.
If you are seeking managed security for your company, our private cloud platform can help. We specialize in highly complex and regulated businesses across the country and can improve the cyber security of your business. Please contact us today to learn more about our opportunities.