THE SCARY WORLD OF CYBERCRIME

By Tishani Sripathi
May 23, 2022

With pandemic-triggered curfews, lockdowns and social distancing measures hurling the world into a social abyss, the internet emerged as a global savior, stepping up to the plate to fill the physical void by facilitating human interaction and corporate communications.

A survey conducted by DataReportal reveals that as of April 2022, 62.5% of the global population are now avid internet users. A report published by the World Advertising Research Center (WARC), using data from mobile trade body, Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) in 2019 states that a total of 72.6%, almost three-quarters of the world population, would be accessing the internet via smartphones alone.

While we witnessed traditional and rigid ventures collapse under covid’s crippling conditions, the more innovative and forward-thinking enterprises made leaps and bounds by hopping on to the online bandwagon and offering their product or service through virtual points of contact. Need groceries? Schedule your doctor’s appointment? Make a bank transaction? Set reminders about your anniversary? Or even hold your company’s board meeting? All this is now just a click away!

So, what’s all the buzz about?

We hardly stop to consider the indispensable dependency on the use of the internet for our personal and professional activities. The basics such as bank details, identifying information and even those pictures we upload of family and friends with current location tags on social media, financial statements, employee payroll details or business strategies and every other little detail that we save for our convenience is afloat on cyberspace.

There is so much information out there that a person’s buying habits can be easily predicted, a business’ strategy can be singled out, and even a country’s defense system is wholly or partly reliant on this!

Such mundane yet valuable information even if protected on some level could still be vulnerable to gross illegal misuse through criminal activity known as cybercrimes.

What are cybercrimes?

Cybercrimes refer to the use or targeting of a computer, network or networked device to commit an unlawful act such as fraud, identity theft, data breaches and trafficking child pornography, mostly with the aim of making a profit.

These constitute attacks on the virtual body of individuals, corporations or governments and are a major disruption of the digital presence which has become an essential element of our everyday life.

In fact, according to a survey done by Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty, risk management experts expect cybercrimes to be the biggest risk to businesses in 2022. The danger imposed is more and more real each day.

Types of Cybercrimes

  1. Identity theft and impersonation
    Fraudulently and dishonestly making use of identification features such as electronic signatures or passwords.
  1. Credit and debit card fraud
    Using credit or debit card information illegally gained to make undue profits or purchases.
  1. Cyberbullying and stalking
    Attack on a person using electronic communication.
  1. Illegal content
    Where the criminal shares or distributes inappropriate content such as Child Sexually Abusive Material (CSAM).
  1. Data breach
    Where information is obtained without authorization.
  1. Phishing/ Vishing/ Smishing
    These are all forms of fraud that involve stealing personal information through emails or phone calls.
  1. Pharming
    Redirecting web traffic to a bogus site.
  1. DDoS attacks
    Distributed Denial of Services is an attack intended to make a service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic.
  1. Ransomware
    Introducing computer malware that encrypts valuable data and holds such on ransom till the victimized parties pay the asking price.
  1. Viruses, Worms and Trojans
    Are all forms of malicious programs that are designed to damage or alter the data stored in a system or which open a backdoor entryway to give access to criminals.
  1. Crypto-jacking
    Where computer resources are used to mine cryptocurrency illegally.
  1. Espionage
    Obtaining information without the knowledge of the owner (this could be highly secure information relating to the national security of a country).

Mainstream Cybercrime in 2021 

Cybercrime is on the rise! Here are some notable 2021 attacks which had national, international, and institutional level implications according to Computer Weekly’s Security Editor, Alex Scroxton: 

  1. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack
    The US government enacted emergency actions after the ‘Darkside’ ransomware attack shut down a major US fuel pipeline causing a hike in fuel prices which has come to be known as the most disruptive digital ransom operation reported.
  1. The Kaseya ransomware heist
    The REvil crew demanded a cumulative $70m in ransom payment from over 1000 businesses after compromising services provided by Kaseya, a software and IT management firm.
  1. The multiple victims of the BlackMatter gang
    The gang was reportedly one of the most impactful emergent ransom crews in 2021 that attacked multiple targets.
  1. The attack on the Irish Health Services
    The Conti ransomware gang ruthlessly encrypted the system of the Healthcare services causing major disruptions to patient services. Mercifully there were no deaths as a result of the attack, however the service has not yet fully recovered.
  1. Data leaked on Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
    Cybercriminals did their best to disrupt the roll-out of the vaccine program in Europe with a data dump through stolen data, jeopardizing the safe evaluation, regulation and distribution of the vaccine.

Cybercrimes, although in the grand scheme of things are an insidious assault on our systems and infrastructure, have the potential to reach deep into our individual lives to perforate our social fabric in a personal and private capacity.

Cybercrimes and social media

Numbers show that the use of social media is ever increasing. This is no surprise as the pandemic was a catalyst for many to get on social media platforms just to keep in touch with their loved ones, for entertainment and even as a means of engaging in daily professional activities.

From Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to Tinder and more, the rising popularity of social media platforms is goading bait for cybercriminals awaiting an opportunity to exploit. An inherent quality of data sharing on social media is that of trust as there is a sense of safety in sharing one’s personal intimate details on a platform designed to be used among known family and friends. This created the perfect environment for these cybercriminals to thrive.

Creating fake accounts for various inducements and frauds such as ‘Romance Scams’ like the famous “Tinder Swindler” where several victims were groomed eventually tricking them into handing over money; phishing schemes to gain personal details sold on the dark web or gaining access to financial accounts and even infecting organizations with malware through social media are only some of these crimes.

Solution:

  • Always be aware of the privacy settings on each of your social media platforms as past scandals such as the Facebook Cambridge Analytica debacle goes to show that our information could be sold without our knowledge. Privacy is now more regulated than before with reforms such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Cybercrimes and family

From identity theft, impersonation, cyberbullying and stalking to illegal content, your family is at risk of being exploited via the internet. Be it elders over the age of 50 to teenagers and young children, no one in the family is deemed safe anymore.

Due to the heavy reliance on the internet for simple matters such as banking, grocery shopping or shopping for medicine and children moving to online viewing and the use of technology for educational purposes, the online presence of a family as a whole is inevitable.

“Social engineering” schemes that garner the trust of people by pretending to be someone they know and “borrowing” money on such pretext and other phishing schemes pose a serious threat to the most vulnerable members of your family.

Children, especially, find the line between their online and offline world blurry and are most susceptible to dangerous crimes such as grooming, inappropriate content (including CSAM), and harmful interactions leading to harassment, bullying, stalking and even kidnappings.

While internet usage is inevitable and at most times advantageous, your family as a whole must be made aware of its dangers.

Solutions:

  • Be cautious when making online payments
  • Use stronger methods of data protection
  • Stop oversharing on less private forums
  • Simply thinking twice before responding to unknown entities could prevent oneself from being a victim of cybercrime

Cybercrime and retail

With online purchasing on the rise, the retail industry has by far changed the most in the past 20 years. With globalization coupled with the latest forms of online target marketing, the retail sector thrives on the internet as a sales platform. While this opens it up to a global market it has also opened the retail sector to cybercriminals.

As online payments facilitate purchases in the e-commerce retail sector, the industry and its stakeholders are relatively more susceptible to DDoS and Web app attacks through malware, data breaches and credit / debit card fraud.

Each attack on such cyber security has an average cost of up to $4.24 million where criminals target peak sales seasons such as Black Friday and Christmas for such fraud and sabotage.

Cybercrimes and SMEs  

Any organization is heavily reliant on operating systems, software applications and networks be it a blue-chip company or an SME (Small and Medium Enterprise). However, unlike the more established blue-chip companies that will survive such a cyberattack, an SME might fail to do so.

Unfortunately, we now see an increase in cyberattacks on SMEs where, according to Accenture’s Cost of Cybercrime Study, 43% of such attacks are aimed at SMEs and only 14% of them are equipped to defend themselves against it. The most common type of attacks on such businesses is phishing, malware, ransomware, insider threats and taking advantage of the use of weak passwords.

The result of such attacks on the cyber security of an SME will leave them with a damaged reputation where clients lose their trust in the up-and-coming brand. The loss of intellectual property could result in the loss of that competitive edge that the company was bargaining on for success. Not to mention the costs involved in recovering and repairing while securing against future threats will be enough to drown the business.

The future of cybercrimes

With the cost of cybercrimes on the rise, the toll, either monetary or otherwise, it takes on a personal, corporate and national level has proven to be heavy. Hence the age-old adage “prevention is better than cure” is more appropriate when it comes to methods of cyber security now more than ever. With each advancement in technology comes a new more complicated challenge but investing in the right type of security can help overcome the negative and make use of the advancements made without hesitation.

Recommended further reading: 'Why is Cybersecurity Important?' by DesignRush.

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