Cybercriminals: Profile of a Hacker

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Cybercriminals don’t fit a certain profile and they certainly don’t all wear hoodies and slouch around as the media likes to portray them. Many wear business suits and work in upscale companies on the other side of the world. Because the web has made the world a smaller more globally connected place, it’s also given cyber criminals the ability to operate just about anywhere they can get Wi-Fi.

Because utilization of the web is essential in the running of most developed economies, the targets of cybercrime have changed too. A decade ago, most digital crime was basically a type of online vandalism, whereas the current internet climate is more about amassing wealth. “Now the focus is almost entirely focused on a some kind of pay-off,” stated David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

This shift is disrupting and causing chaos to both businesses and consumers. IBM and Ponemon Institute’s 2016 Cost of Data Breach Study found that the average cost of a data breach for the 383 companies participating increased from $3.79m to $4m over 2015: the average cost paid for each lost or stolen record containing sensitive and confidential information increased from $154 in 2015 to $158. All the organizations in the survey had experienced a data breach ranging from 3,000 to 101,500 compromised records, and the majority of the leaks were down to malicious attacks (as with many types of crime, the costs of cleaning up can be vastly higher than the loot that the hackers manage to get away with).

Phishing crimes have also exploded ten-fold: the FBI estimated that CEO email scams — where criminals pose as senior execs and persuade finance managers to transfer huge sums to phony bank accounts — have affected tens of thousands of companies and cost over $3.1bn since January 2015

The majority of internet crime is motivated by a desire for profit — stealing banking credentials or intellectual property, through ransomware, for example. But as online crime has grown it has also transformed from the hooded hacker in the garage into a big business. These cyber criminals have different tools, motives and techniques, and knowing what you are against can help you defend against them.

Disorganized Crime

“The bulk of cybercrime is the equivalent of real-world opportunist thieves,” says Emm. These are the crooks you’re most likely to come across, or at least feel the impact of, as an individual — the petty criminals of the online world. They may spew out spam or offer access to a botnet for others to run denial-of-services attacks, or attempt to fool you into an advance-fee scams where the unwary are promised a big payday in return for paying (often a substantial) sum of money up-front.

One big growth area here is ransomware: “The return on investment in the criminal ecosystem is much better if you can get your victims to pay for their own data,” said Jens Monrad, global threat intelligence liaison for FireEye.

Organized Crime

“The twenty-first century digital criminal is best characterized as a ruthlessly efficient entrepreneur or CEO, operating in a highly developed and rapidly evolving dark market…they are a CEO without the constraints of regulation or morals,” warned a recent report from KPMG and BT entitled Taking the Offensive.

These groups will have a loose organization and may utilize many contractors — some expert at developing hacking tools and vulnerabilities, others who will carry out the attack and yet others who will launder the cash. At the center of the web is a cybercrime boss with the ideas, the targets and the contacts.

These are the groups with the cyber guns to mount attacks on banks, law firms and other big businesses. They might execute CEO frauds, or simply steal vital files and offer to sell them back again (or sell them on to unscrupulous business rivals).

According to Europol in its 2015 Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment, there is now some overlap between the tools and techniques of organized crime and state-sponsored hackers, with “both factions using social engineering and both custom malware and publicly available crimeware”. Organized cybercrime groups are also increasingly performing long-term, targeted attacks instead of indiscriminate scatter-gun campaigns, said the agency.


These are the types you might find at a hacker convention. They may be individuals or groups driven by a particular agenda — maybe a social issue or a broader campaign. Differing from most cybercriminals, hacktivists aren’t out to steal money, instead they want to embarrass an organization or individual and generate media attention. This results in different targets, they are looking for embarrassing emails from the CEO or other company officials or compromising material.


Despite the publicity, the threat from cyber terrorism is somewhat low, mainly because these groups lack the skills, money and infrastructure to develop and deploy effective cyber weapons, which only the largest nations can hope to build. “Terrorist sympathizers will probably conduct low-level cyber attacks on behalf of terrorist groups and attract attention of the media, which might exaggerate the capabilities and threat posed by these actors,” said US director of national intelligence James Clapper in his assessment of worldwide cyber threats in September last year.

State-backed Hackers

While most cyber threats are done by small to mid-sized crime rings, the growth of state-sponsored hackers has been widely publicized in recent years. While it sounds more James Bond than reality, cyber espionage — attempts to steal data on government personnel or on expensive defense projects–has become a huge problem. Governments invest millions developing virtually invisible ways of sneaking onto the systems of other nations — or those of defense contractors or critical national infrastructure — and these projects may take years of development.

“Networks that control much of our critical infrastructure  –  including our financial systems and power grids  —  are probed for vulnerabilities by foreign governments and criminals,” warned President Obama last year, blaming Iranian hackers for targeted American banks and North Korea for the attack on Sony Pictures that destroyed data and disabled thousands of computers.

Similar to hacktivists, state-sponsored groups aren’t usually looking for a payout. Instead, they are looking to politically gain an upper hand by embarrassing another government by revealing secrets or use crucial information as a tool against them. State hackers may also be interested in creating mayhem and havoc–causing physical damage by digital means–hitting a power grid or disrupting necessary services. This is where cybercrime tips over into cyber warfare.

“The management and operation of critical infrastructure systems will continue to depend on cyber information systems and electronic data. Reliance on the power grid and telecommunications will also continue to increase, as will the number of attack vectors and the attack surface due to the complexity of these systems and higher levels of connectivity due to smart networks. The security of these systems and data is vital to public confidence and safety,” says Europol.

To protect your business consider a comprehensive security plan. Give EnhancedTECH a call for a complimentary consultation at 714-970-9330 or contact us at [email protected]

Source Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/dYEuFB8KQJk

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