What Is the Next Phase of Cybercrime?
Online and Mobile Safety The future of cybercrime is not big breaches or ransomware, it’s the Internet of Things and the billions of connected devices that come with it.
I recently got to sit down and discuss the future of cybercrime with Steph Aldridge, who may just be a contender for having the world’s coolest job title: Cyber Assurance Bletchley Park; CyberCenturion and Diversity Lead at UK Cyber Security Challenge. Our conversation centered on the fact that we seem to be at a low point in the battle against cybercrime but that there is hope on the horizon.
Looking at the big picture it’s easy to be disheartened. In March 2014, Dell SecureWorks reported CryptoWall earned $34,000 in its first month of operation and by August 2014 had earned more than $1.1 million. In June 2015, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center stated that 992 CryptoWall-related complaints were filed with resulting losses of more than $18 million.
Despite these losses, we need to keep our perspective. Until there is less money being made legitimately online than cybercrime is grabbing, the situation is significant but not catastrophic. Businesses will still go online and leverage an online presence for their services. This might explain why the criminal element is moving towards ransomware attacks and away from mega breaches.
While I don’t think mega breaches will stop anytime soon, they do create big headaches when it comes to monetizing the illicit haul of data. You need money mules and credit card processors, and it could take weeks to get your cash into hand. Don’t discount the attentions of law enforcement either; a big breach can bring the heat down on even the best cybercrime gang.
“A perhaps more alarming trend is that cybercrime is attracting more and more generalized criminals.”
Held for ransom
As annoying as ransomware is – it’s petty theft. It’s lots of petty theft for sure but from a law enforcement perspective much of it goes under the radar. With “damage” around $300 to $1000 per instance, it’s the cyber equivalent of “if you don’t pay me $100 dollars I’ll break your car window.”
A perhaps more alarming trend is that cybercrime is attracting more and more generalized criminals. This is underscored by a recent University of Cambridge study, which showed that 60 percent of cyber-criminals had a record unrelated to cybercrime. This isn’t totally surprising given that the consequences are minimal and entry is easy—utilizing Crime as a Service (CaaS) providers bringing everything together in one neat package.
Based on all of this data, staffing levels in electronic and cybercrimes have to be adjusted. The people that were doing breaking and entering, or mugging, are not suddenly going to become the next Lex Luthers of cybercrime, so we have plenty of leeway to stop them. But we do need to stop them.
Sheep and wolves
This brings me to my final point. If we look at the cybercriminals as wolves and the victim businesses as sheep, you need to ask the question: What happens when the wolves outnumber the sheep? Would businesses go online anymore? Very probably not.
Keep in mind that the folks supplying CaaS – the real Lex Luthers of cybercrime – are not dumb. They know they have the capability to destroy business online and they have had a great run of looting and pillaging. Yet, like the pirates of the 17th century had their comeuppance, I think ransomware suppliers may fade into the cyber history books over the coming years; because ultimately if they destroy the very thing they feed off they no longer have any reason to exist.
FBI Director James Comey summed things up nicely when he described the internet as “the most dangerous parking lot imaginable,” and warned people to be just as aware of scams, compromised websites, malware and other threats as they would be of a physical theft.
So where will the cybercriminals go next? My money is on the Internet of Things. How they will turn it into a criminal payday is yet to be seen, but whatever happens, we the defenders will do what we do best: defend our networks.