Cybercrime has become the biggest threat to digital information, causing reputational and financial damage to businesses and consumers around the globe. The pace at which cybercrime has evolved since the 1980s is a concern for businesses that have become increasingly dependent on computers to house sensitive and proprietary data.
According to Malwarebytes’ latest report, “The New Mafia: Gangs and Vigilantes,” this new mafia, a technologically advanced type of traditional crime taking place solely online, has caused close to a 2,000% increase in ransomware detections since 2015, rising to hundreds of thousands of detections in September 2017 from less than 16,000 in September 2015. The structure, execution and malice of this type of crime are reminiscent of the mafia criminal organizations throughout history.
The Rise of Cybercrime
Cybercrime has emerged from a burgeoning threat to a global epidemic, inflicting immeasurable damage to businesses and individuals. The 1980s became the decade in which computer crime skyrocketed. Criminals began using their tech knowledge to pirate software, create viruses and steal personal information. In the 1990s, online financial crimes grew significantly, most notably with the theft of more than $10 million from Citibank by Russian student Vladimir Levin. The shift to mainstream consumer use in the early 2000s saw the occurrence of spam emails take root. In 2002, 29% of all emails were spam; by 2008-2010, 90% of all emails were spam.
Today’s cybercriminals have created more sophisticated and well-organized modes of attack. Ransomware attacks in 2017 through October surpassed total figures for 2016 by 62%. And the average monthly volume of attacks is up 23%. These figures show just how quickly the methods of cybercrime can evolve and how problematic they can become through the rise of new tactics, techniques and even gangs.
Emergence of The New Gangs
Hacking transformed the way criminals located and attacked their victims through the 1980s and 1990s. In the early 2000s, criminals started to take notice of the success of global cyberattacks, leading to the emergence of four cybercriminals groups: traditional gangs, state-sponsored attackers, ideological hackers and hackers-for-hire.
Traditional gangs are the internet’s version of organized crime gangs: They provide illegal and/or stolen goods online. State-sponsored attackers aim to steal information and disrupt political activity, all while becoming increasingly interested in corporate theft and sabotage. Ideological hackers gather classified information and leak the data to destroy the credibility of governments or other high-profile organizations, acting under the guise of moral and ethical duty. Hackers-for-hire are akin to paid guns for hire, operating in a highly retail-oriented manner with an emphasis on customer service and reliability.
Fighting Back: Consumers as The New Vigilantes
Acknowledgement of cybercrime needs to shift from victim shaming to empowering. Individuals need to feel encouraged to share and act rather than be silenced by fear. Cybercrime is relatively new so consumers can often feel hopeless since there is little legislation to protect those that have been victimized. As industry leaders fight back against cybercrime, consumers must feel empowered in their own threat knowledge so they can recognize and prevent possible attacks.
Technology will only become more prevalent in our lives as innovations such as the internet of things (IoT), machine learning and automation arrive. Undoubtedly, these mediums will spawn the next generation of cyberattacks. However, individuals and businesses can do something about this: The confidence of consumers and businesses to identify and report cybercrime will reduce the proliferation of cyberattacks.
To succeed against cybercrime, mindsets must change. Individuals must be encouraged to share information and take action. Without accepting, sharing and learning from our experiences, these groups will continue operating in the shadows.