The real driver behind cyber crime and it’s success

Mark Cutting Analysis, Investigation, Network, Ransomware, Risk, Security 2 Comments

What would you consider to be the primary driver behind cyber crime ? It should not come as a surprise that the number one reason for it’s existence is money. It certainly does make the world go round. But how does money align itself to an article about cyber crime, and the associated security that is somehow sidestepped on a daily basis ?

Here’s a quick summary of the problem, and why it has become a pandemic

Cyber crime is an extremely profitable and lucrative business, and for all the time that there is money to be made on the back of an organisation’s misfortune of overlooking a particular asset or poor network configuration, this digital gravy train shows no signs of slowing or stopping.

With this in mind, is the “crime doesn’t pay” phrase applicable in today’s modern world ? The short answer would seem to be no. So how do you make cyber crime less appealing from the financial perspective ? The long answer requires a bit more explanation and understanding before we arrive at a conclusion.

How previous crimes shaped today’s landscape for easy money

Ever since the introduction of money around 3,000 years ago, the opportunity for an abundant supply has anyways been very appealing. So much so, that nefarious individuals have been very creative at realising this goal. From the 1963 Great Train robbery, through to Brinks Mat in 1983, then the 2015 Hatton Garden safety deposit box heist, crime has played a central and pivotal role in trying to accomplish the prospect of becoming rich beyond your wildest dreams – albeit leveraging a short (and illegal) path to success. Historical crimes like the Great Train Robbery and the Brinks Mat raid used a significant level of violence in order to gain access to the ultimate prize, but all had the same goal – money. These legendary crimes can be thought of as “analogue” in their nature, as the supporting modernised infrastructure were see today just didn’t exist in those days. Fast forward through 53 years of evolution in technology, and there is the potential to commit crime of a similar nature motivated by the same goal without leaving your house, changing out of your pyjamas, or even getting out of bed.

Modern technology has created a plethora of opportunity for cyber crime to be committed at a truly astonishing level – so widespread is the problem that we learn of a newly reported breach on a frequent basis. Simple mistakes in configuration, a lack of basic hygiene in the form of patching and security updates, malicious software (malware and ransomware), or a 0day vulnerability that can be leveraged in a certain situation mean the potential to expose and extract sensitive or confidential electronic information that can easily be converted to money from any organisation exists in one form or another. To understand how cyber crime works, we first need to understand the value of the data being stolen. In most cases, the money value than can be obtained from data depends on the content. A list of credit card numbers complete with CVV authorisation carries a significant price tag, but data stolen from the health and medical industry (HIPAA) carries a much higher asking price attributed to an ability for the information to be used for a variety of different tasks – the most common of these being identity fraud amongst others. The main point here is that the information stolen can easily be individually sold on, making the profit margin much higher.

The dark web creates a selling platform that generates money

Cast your mind back to the analogue style activities of times gone by. The black market has been a dominant force for years, and the story of “it fell off the back of a lorry / truck” still rings true in today’s modern age. In this case, it’s no longer the truck, but the emergence of the digital black market referred to as the dark web. This entity has risen dramatically over the years to become the preferential watering hole for the modern day criminal looking to trade stolen information from an organisation in exchange for money. The default currency used inside the dark web is bitcoins, with prices ranging from a relatively modest fee for something considered low level or small scale to outrageous prices for something of a more sinister nature – it really depends on what your are looking for, and alarmingly, there appears to be no upper limit to the services on offer. If you don’t know how to access the dark web, a quick search of Google provides an immediate answer, complete with a a list of what you need, and a complete guide on accessing and remaining anonymous.

A prevalent presence within the dark web is the availability of complete kits that can turn a small time crook into a fully fledged cyber criminal. For a comparatively minor investment, anyone can acquire the necessary suite of tools required to commit fraud, extortion, and a wide range of other activities without having to learn and master the art of hacking. What makes matters far worse is that these widely available kits actually come with a “guaranteed to work” promise. This in itself is a worrying concept and would typically mean that a substantial profit can be made on the back of the initial purchase – particularly if the kit targets a 0 day vulnerability. Additionally, the tools contained in the kit could be reused, providing another revenue stream for any would-be criminal. The dark web isn’t someone who lurks in poorly lit areas of town and attempts to sell you coupons or extra rations like they may have done during the war. It is a highly organised collective – an enormous criminal collaborative underworld that relies on honour amongst thieves, and is not visible to users on the surface. Several people know of it’s existence, but only a small percentage have ever visited it. So with the kits on offer, and the guarantees being supplied with such merchandise, how can such a crime pandemic be realistically thwarted ?

Cyber crime origins and estimated impact on economy

At this point, we should also understand that cyber crime isn’t always about money. It may be politically motivated, state sponsored, or in retaliation to recent events. However, for the most part, money and financial gain are the primary drivers behind an attack. If little or no money could be made from cyber crime, would the trade of stolen data still provide a lucrative income ? Possibly not, although given the eye watering fact that cyber crime cost the global economy in excess of USD 4oo billion back in 2014, and the estimated rise of this cost to USD 2 trillion by 2019 by Forbes would provide a strong indication that cyber crime has manifested itself firmly in the number one spot to be the single most costly event that any organisation or individual could ever encounter. In fact, cyber crime has eclipsed the drug trade as the most profitable illegal activity

With these figures, it’s very easy to see the appeal from the criminal perspective. What is also abundantly clear is that cyber crime is on the increase with no signs whatsoever of demise. The kits for sale on the dark web that enable even the complete novice to indulge in criminal activity using a proven army of tools – based on this, can you realistically make cyber crime less appealing ?

 

About the Author
Mark Cutting

Mark Cutting

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Mark Cutting is the founder of Phenomlab.com and Inocul8r.net. He is a network, security and infrastructure expert with more than 27 years service in the Information Technology sector. Mark has a significant eye for detail, coupled with an extensive skill set. Having worked in numerous industries including trading, finance, hedge funds, marketing, manufacturing and distribution, he has been exposed to a wide variety of environments and technologies alike.

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Mark Honeycutt
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Excellent, excellent article Mark!  This is something that needs to be said.  It’s been the elephant in the room for too long.  The real problem is that the only people getting caught seem to be the complete novices who buy these tools on the dark web.  They don’t know enough to know how to cover their tracks properly.  But the real black hats, those who have super skills that put many of the good guys to shame, are hammering our economy.  I understand why U.S. corporations are lobbying for the right to fight back with their own groups of counter-hackers.  I don’t agree with it, but I understand.  I think we, as a society, need to start treating cybercrime like we would rape or attempted murder.  It has to come with a more severe penalty.  And we need to revamp our industry and training process.  Certifications mean nothing.  Black hats aren’t loaded with certs.  They learn hands-on from trial and error, pure grit, and from others who share knowledge.  By the time they’ve reached the point where they can do some real damage, they’re ten times better than those on the other side of the modem.