Follow the Money — Stemming Hacker Habits

Friday, June 30, 2017

Steve McGregory

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Cybercrime has become a business — with everything from designers to customer service representatives to help monetize exploit kits, malware and DDoS botnets for hire. Gone are the days of the lone wolf hacker seeking to disrupt random organizations and websites for the “lulz.” Instead, there are fully fitted businesses selling their malicious services. What has given rise to new criminal business models?

The resurgence of attacks, from ransomware to DDoS attacks at massive scale, has been blamed on many factors. IoT is adding new points of vulnerability, network complexity due to the cloud has made it difficult to monitor and protect data flows, and digitization has networked all parts of an organization. Although these things do factor in the recent attack trends, more important, is the hacker’s motivation — which often follows the path of least resistance and greatest reward.

As in any legal business operation, cashing in on the opportunity for revenue growth is a must for criminals. And the path cyber criminals have taken has been driven by the prospect of an easy buck.

Tech Progress — A Double-Edged Sword

Technological advances in the workplace have and will continue changing how people work. But while it allows for greater productivity by way of streamlined workflows, hyperconnectivity, automation and more, it’s a double-edged sword. Things like the cloud and IoT have added another layer of complexity and almost limitless compute power and, in turn, make cybersecurity even more difficult.

For instance, clandestine devices and solutions are being brought into organizations unbeknownst to IT and security, ranging from personal connected devices to the use of unapproved cloud applications. This results in network visibility gaps that can be exploited by nefarious actors. All it takes is for a hacker to find this gap and exploit it for their benefit. It’s much easier to find a crack in a wall than it is to guard all of it.

Cyber Theft is Easy Money

In an unmonitored network, cybercrime and making money becomes easier for hackers — and cybercriminals aren’t missing a step in this seemingly easy-to-exploit environment. In 2016, we saw a record high of 1,093 breaches according to a recent report from Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) and CyberScout. This is a 40 percent spike over the previous year. And if recent headlines are any indicator, cybercriminals are likely to break the record again by the end of 2017.

The motivator is not just how easy it can be to get into a given network but the quick and big pay out it can provide. In the case of the past year’s breaches, over 36 million records were exposed. Databases worth of information were taken and then sold on the dark web on sites specially created for the purpose. It’s an entire ecosystem, as each record containing personally identifiable information (PII) can go for  $20 USD each. With thousands of records being sold at a time, it’s a large monetary win for cyber criminals that far outweigh the risk. Not to mention, they rarely face direct repercussions, as attribution is tenuous at best.

Shoring Up Defenses

In an attempt to prevent hackers from breaching their network, organizations across industries have begun to heavily invest in security. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts global security spending will exceed $1 trillion between 2017 and 2021. But throwing money at the problem will not solve it. As evidenced by a large number of breaches, best-in-breed solutions are not enough. Businesses can’t just plug and play, they need to have deep insight into their network in order to best orchestrate and manage solutions, traffic and, in turn, threats.

At the crux of this effort lies visibility. Without a single truth to work from and lack of network visibility to build on, organizations are haphazardly plugging holes — often, too late. Organizations need to ensure they take a step back before diving into the deep end of security. Cybercriminals only need to find one flaw to exploit and, without insight into where that can happen, organizations are left blind and unable to correct the flaws before it’s too late.

Cybercriminals aren’t stopping anytime soon. Ensure you have a finger on the pulse of your network or be ready to become another notch on a hacker’s belt.

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