The number of cyber attacks has been on a steady rise in the last few years. Hackers are now targeting governments, businesses, and individuals around the world – and you may unknowingly be helping them carry out these attacks. If you’ve ever clicked on a link in a suspicious email only to have a similar email automatically sent to all your contacts, you were likely a victim – and an accomplice – of a botnet.
Key takeaway: Cybercrime is any criminal activity that involves a computer, either as the target of the crime or as its tool. Each year, the world economy is losing hundreds of billions of dollars as a result of cybercriminal activity. Read on to learn more about the most common examples of cybercrime.
What is Cybercrime?
The term cybercrime can refer to any criminal activity that involves a computer, either as the tool of the crime or as its target. According to the Department of Justice, all cybercrime can be organized into three categories – crimes that use computers as a weapon (e.g. hacker attacks), crimes that target a computer or another device (e.g. to gain access to a network), and crimes where a computer is neither the main tool nor the main object but still plays an important part (e.g. storing of illegally downloaded files).
With the increased availability of the internet in recent years, the nature of cybercrime has evolved. Not that long ago, the bulk of cybercriminal activities involved illegal downloads of copyrighted content or hate speech on the internet. Although they are nothing to laugh at, these acts are fairly benign in comparison to what has come since. Nowadays, new cases of extortion, mass-surveillance, financial theft, data breaches, theft of personal information, and espionage are making the headlines almost daily.
Cybercrime has been on an unprecedented rise as of late, so it perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that the world economy is losing more than half a trillion dollars per year as a result of cybercriminal activity. Although many law enforcement agencies around the world have started cracking down on cybercrime, the increasing trend is showing no signs of decline. To avoid being persecuted, some cybercriminals have moved to countries with weak cybercrime laws and switched from dollars to untraceable cryptocurrency.
As with offline criminal activities, most perpetrators of cybercriminal acts are motivated by financial gains. In addition to money, cybercriminals can also be driven by their egos, a cause they believe in, personal vendettas, a sense of notoriety, as well as the desire to improve their status in hacker circles.
Cybercrime can come in many shapes and forms, some of which you might not necessarily associate with it. For example, even the theft of a physical computer can be considered a cybercriminal activity if the perpetrator intends to use the information stored on the computer for personal gain. If someone steals a flash drive with valuable data that they plan to sell on the dark web, that also qualifies as a cybercrime.
Some of the most common types of cybercrime include the following:
- DDoS Attacks
Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks are carried out by botnets, large groups of computers that are remotely controlled by a hacker who uses their combined bandwidth and resources to commit malicious acts on the internet. Once activated, these machines band together to generate huge amounts of traffic to networks or websites, aiming to overload their resources and hamper their functionality.
While most attempted DDoS attacks end in failure thanks to the use of reliable cybersecurity solutions, some are so strong that even the most expensive solutions can’t deflect them. If they are successful, these attacks can take websites and computer networks down for anywhere from a few seconds to well over a week and cause major financial losses for the victim. In fact, statistics show that DDoS attacks targeting business networks are costing enterprises an average of $2.5 million in lost revenue.
- Phishing Scams
Perhaps the most widespread form of cybercrime, phishing involves the mass-sending of emails containing links to malicious websites and/or attachments that include files infected with malicious software. When the user clicks on the link or the attachment, they may unknowingly start downloading malware to their computer. Hackers can then use the malware to spy on the victim’s browsing activity, steal their personal information, or add their computer to a botnet and use it to attack other computers.
These emails often have very urgent-sounding subject lines and imagery that aims to trick victims into entering their personal information like passwords and credit card numbers, thus making them available to the hackers behind these scams. According to statistics, an average computer user receives about 16 phishing emails each month. Although most of them are instantly identified as spam, some are so realistic that they even manage to bypass spam filters and end up in the inbox with other legitimate mail.
- Identity Theft
Unknowingly disclosing your personal information to hackers by either following the instructions in phishing emails or installing malware on your computer could make you a victim of identity theft. When hackers obtain your personal details, they can use them to steal funds from your account, access confidential information that you have access to, or create fake documents using your identity. Hackers can also use your personal information to plan criminal activities or claim tax benefits in your name.
In the last few years, identity theft has seen an unprecedented rise. According to statistics, almost 17 million Americans were victims of this form of cybercrime in 2017, a 10-percent increase over 2016. Stealing other people’s personal details has helped hackers net almost $17 billion in 2017 alone.
- Exploit Kits
As the name suggests, exploit kits are collections of exploits, pieces of software designed to take advantage of bugs and security deficiencies on computers. Rather than having to develop these kits from scratch, hackers can buy them ready-made on the dark web. What’s more, victims don’t have to visit a malicious website for their computer to become infected. Cybercriminals can hack any legitimate site and embed an invisible HTML tag that neither the owner nor the victim will notice until it’s too late.
When you visit a compromised website, the kit will search for any software vulnerabilities on your computer. These may include an outdated version of a browser that contains a specific bug or security software that is using outdated virus definitions. If it detects any fault, the kit will immediately launch a silent download of malicious software on your computer. This, in turn, will allow hackers to monitor your online activity, steal personal information, and gain access to files stored on your computer’s hard drive.
Ransomware is malicious software that locks the victim out of their computer or blocks access to the files stored on their hard drive. The only way for the victim to regain access to their files is to pay a few hundred dollars in ransom money according to the instructions provided by the hacker. To keep the victim from reporting the incident to the police, hackers will try to persuade them that the local law enforcement authorities are already involved by using their logos and other imagery in the ransom note.
Since 2013, various types of ransomware have infected millions of computers and networks around the world, costing businesses and financial institutions billions of dollars in lost revenue. To avoid getting caught, many hackers are now seeking ransom in cryptocurrencies.
With the number of online criminal activities on the rise, new examples of cybercrime can be found in the tech news almost daily. Some of the most notorious cybercrimes in recent years have included the following:
- The 2013 Yahoo! Data Breach – In 2013, cybercriminals have hacked Yahoo’s mail service and gained access to the names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least 500 million registered users. It was later revealed that the hackers had compromised all 3 billion registered accounts, making this the largest data breach to date.
- The 2016 Dyn Cyber Attack – In October 2016, a series of DDoS attacks against a Domain Name System provider Dyn managed to take down several popular websites and services, including Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, PayPal, and Amazon.
- The 2015 IRS Data Breach – In 2015, the Internal Revenue Service was hacked by cybercriminals, who managed to steal more than 700,000 Social Security numbers, as well as other related personal info. The attack was facilitated by exploit kits that took advantage of official IRS software used by taxpayers to review their tax history.
How to Protect Yourself from Cybercrime
The effects of cybercrime can be devastating, which is why you should take steps to protect yourself. First of all, you need to use the best antivirus software (like Norton, BitDefender, Intego or Panda) to ensure that your computer is protected from adware, spyware, ransomware, and all other types of malicious software. Keep all the software on your computer regularly updated to prevent the hackers from gaining access to your personal information.
If you find a suspicious email in your inbox, don’t open any attachments or click on any links contained in it. Always use strong passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols. Make sure to have a different password for each service you use. If you need help keeping your passwords organized, you can use a reliable password manager. You might also consider using a paid virtual private network (VPN) to add an extra layer of protection when browsing the internet from a public Wi-Fi connection.
Like all software on your computer, you need to keep your antivirus program regularly updated, as well. Using the best antivirus software will allow you to monitor your computer’s health in real time and schedule regular scans to ensure that no threat goes undetected. These programs will also automatically check for database updates, thus keeping your computer protected against the latest threats.
- Business Wire
- CS Online
- EC Council
- Panda Security
- Notional Crime Agency
- Security Intelligence
- Tech Target
- Tek Sec Blog
- Wikipedia (1)
- Wikipedia (2)
- ZD Net
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
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