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Cyber crime has become alarmingly prevalent in a world where most transactions are conducted online using digital platforms. Based on current cyber crime trends, the cost of such attacks could reach upwards of $20 trillion worldwide by 2026.
What Is Cyber Crime?
Cyber crime is a general term describing the myriad of criminal activities carried out using a computer, network, or another set of digital devices. Consider cyber crime the umbrella over the vast range of illegal activities that cyber criminals commit. These include hacking, phishing, identity theft, ransomware, and malware attacks, among many others.
The reach of cyber crime knows no physical boundaries. Criminals, victims, and technical infrastructure span worldwide. With the use of technology to exploit security vulnerabilities on both a personal and enterprise level, cyber crime takes many shapes and continuously evolves. In turn, the ability to effectively investigate, prosecute, and prevent cyber crimes is an ongoing fight with many dynamic challenges.
Cyber crime poses a serious threat to individuals, businesses, and government entities and can result in significant financial loss, damaged reputation, and compromised records. As technology advances and more people rely on digital devices and networks for standard operations, the threat of cyber crime continues to increase, making it more critical than ever to take steps to protect against it.
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Cyber Crime Types and Examples
Cyber crime covers a broad spectrum of criminal activities that involve various digital platforms and technologies. Many types of cyber crimes are worth discussing, from fraudulent emails and social media activity to phishing scams and ransomware attacks. While some of these overlap with how they are committed, the most common include:
Misleading schemes that take many forms. Fake emails mislead recipients, while social engineering techniques deceive people into divulging information, such as credit card numbers, or transferring money to the attacker. Phishing schemes, whereby scammers mimic legitimate brands, are a common form of email scams.
Social Media Fraud
Scams that use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok to deceive and defraud victims. Examples include fictitious online stores, catfishing, social engineering attacks, or impersonation scams. Social media frauds often exploit user trust, naivety, and a tendency to overshare personal information online.
Fraudulent activities that target financial institutions or their customers and stakeholders. Banking frauds most commonly result in significant financial loss or identity theft, and attacker strategies often involve sophisticated hacking and social engineering tactics. Examples include credit card fraud, ATM skimming, and online banking scams.
Elaborate consumer scams that exploit weaknesses and pitfalls of online shopping technologies, like artificial or fabricated online stores, fake seller accounts, or credit card information theft. Cases of eCommerce fraud typically result in financial losses on behalf of both consumers and online retailers.
A highly-prevalent software attack programmed to damage and manipulate computer systems by introducing viruses, trojans, or spyware into the system. Malware is a frequent problem across many cases because it targets both individual PCs and enterprise-level computer networks. It's most commonly used for disrupting networks and stealing data from users.
A type of malware attack that encrypts victims' critical data and declares a ransom payment in exchange for a decryption key to recover access. Financially crippling for individuals and organizations alike, ransomware attacks often lead to data and asset loss, fiscal devastation, and disrupted productivity. One of the most talked about ransomware cases involved Costa Rica’s government and erupted into a national emergency.
The use of hacking, malware attacks, or other cyber activity in which an unauthorized user attempts to access sensitive data or intellectual property to gain a competitive advantage over a company or government entity. Cases of cyber espionage often involve state-sponsored groups or individual hackers and can have major political or economic implications. One of the most significant cases of cyber espionage was the five Chinese military hackers indicted for computer hacking, economic espionage, and other offenses directed at U.S. entities.
Unauthorized access or leaks of sensitive data, such as confidential information, critical records, or financial access. Data breaches can be attributed to a wide array of risk factors, such as weak passwords and cybersecurity protocols, software system vulnerabilities, or insider threats. The consequences can result in compromised data, financial damages, or tarnished reputations. Verizon's data breach investigations report highlighted that 82% of breaches involved a human element.
Perhaps the most common type of malicious software that can self-replicate and spread to other systems, often causing damage to computer files or programs. Examples of computer viruses include the Melissa, ILOVEYOU, and Nimda viruses - all spread fast to infect files and damage computer systems.
Distributed Denial of Service attacks, or DDoS attacks, are programmed to overwhelm a network or website with traffic, causing it to slow down or crash entirely. DDoS attacks were one of many of Russia’s destructive cyber activities against Ukraine, along with other attacks designed to delete computer data belonging to governmental and private entities.
A digital form of intellectual property theft involving unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted material, such as software, music, or movies. Examples of software piracy include using key generators or crack software to activate paid software without a license.
Email fraud that involves techniques like deceptive emails, website scams, or misleading communications to con victims into sharing their personal information and sensitive data or clicking links to malicious downloads and websites. Examples of phishing scams involve emails that appear to be from household brands, financial institutions, government agencies, or social media sites.
In a digital context, identity theft refers to acquiring someone's private data for fraudulent or malicious purposes. Target assets of identity theft include social security numbers, date of birth, credit card details, or online accounts. Specific types include financial, medical, and tax identity theft; social media impersonation; and identity cloning, when a person uses another's identity to conceal their own.
Involves cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and repeated acts intended to scare, harm, anger, or shame a particular individual. Today, online harassment is most prevalent on social media sites, dating apps, and forums/message boards. Examples of online harassment include sending inappropriate and unsolicited messages, making clear and intentional threats, or distributing sensitive photos or videos of a victim.
Generally grander acts of destruction online by using the Internet or computer technology to carry out acts of terror, such as causing infrastructure damage and catastrophic malfunctions, stealing confidential information, or spreading propaganda with political or cultural implications. Cases of cyber terrorism are becoming increasingly sophisticated, placing higher demands on cybersecurity and protection.
The Impact of Cyber Crime
As the types of cyber crime become increasingly sophisticated, so does the sheer volume of associated threats and financial losses. According to FBI reports, Secretary Mayorkas of the Department of Homeland Security highlighted losses related to cyber crime exceeding $4.1 billion in 2020.
More recent reports by the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) division show losses surpassing $6.9 billion in 2021. Based on the IC3's report, the FBI attributes this steep rise in cyber crime losses to more ransomware attacks, business email compromise scams, and cryptocurrency-related crimes. The report also highlights the evolving landscape of cyber-attacks becoming increasingly interconnected with international relations and foreign intelligence threats.
On a more granular level, cyber crime runs rampant in many peoples' homes and personal computers. According to stats reported by the Cyber & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), 47% of Americans exposed their personal information to criminals online, and malicious software infected one-third of home computers.
The future impact of cyber crime looks to be a pivotal economic driver and a massive call to action for cybersecurity companies and countries that host them. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts the global costs of cyber crime will continue to grow by 15% a year over the next five years, reaching $10.5 trillion in annual damages by 2025.
Cyber Crime Prevention
As the overall cost and risks associated with cyber crimes continue to increase, so does the need to continuously implement, monitor, and upgrade prevention systems and technologies. Between foreign adversaries, terrorists, and everyday scammers, cyber-attacks are becoming smarter and more sophisticated.
Individuals, businesses, and governmental entities must take proactive measures to prevent cyber crime from penetrating security systems and infiltrating sensitive data. While some cyber crime prevention strategies remain steadfast in warding off attackers, there's also been a new wave of modern technologies to help support these initiatives.
Advanced Cybersecurity Systems
One of the key strategies in preventing cyber crime is utilizing advanced cybersecurity protection. This includes fundamental technologies like firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems, but more advanced cybersecurity systems are evolving with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Implementing the right cybersecurity tools should be a top priority for any organization or individual aiming to protect itself from cyber-attacks and digital threats.
Multifactor authentication (MFA), commonly used as two-factor authentication, is a common security protocol that prevents data breaches, hacks, and other direct cyber-attacks. In simple terms, this process requires users to provide two or more forms of identification to authenticate access to their accounts, such as needing a password and an access code sent to a device. Now a best practice protocol for organizations, MFA adds extra layers of cybersecurity to online accounts, making it much more challenging for attackers to access your data.
Virtual Private Networks
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a service that enables users to browse the Internet with reinforced security and anonymity. VPNs are engineered to encrypt online activity, making it far more difficult for cyber-attackers to intercept and steal your data. VPNs act as intermediaries between your device and the targeted server, adding their own encryption layer and routing communication via their own servers. VPNs are especially effective in helping protect against email frauds like phishing scams by masking your IP address and location.
Email Security Solutions
Email accounts are one of the most frequently exploited channels for cyber-attackers to breach access to sensitive data and private information. Specialized email security technologies can be leveraged to prevent this activity, which includes solutions like email encryption, spam filters, and antivirus software. Encryption is a powerful technology that protects email content from interception. Spam filters detect and prevent unwarranted and malicious emails from reaching your inbox, while antivirus software detects and removes malicious attachments from emails.
Cyber criminals frequently attack password credentials. In addition to creating secure, difficult-to-hack passwords, password managers are software applications that securely store multiple login credentials in an encrypted database, all of which are locked behind a master password. Password managers are commonly used by organizations, remote teams, and individuals to provide extra security protection when surfing the web while safely maintaining passwords in a safe space. The most common password managers include 1Password, KeePass, LastPass, and Apple's iCloud Keychain. However, some password managers come with risks.
Security Awareness Training
Many cyber-attacks result from human error, such as clicking on malicious links or downloading virus-containing files. Security awareness training is intended to help educate users on how to better identify, avoid, and mitigate the threat of cyber-attacks. The most common forms of training are computer-based awareness training and phishing simulated exercises where employees receive fake phishing emails to test how they react. Security awareness training helps organizations establish a security-conscious culture, creating a more resilient network to protect against cyber-attackers.
Data Backup and Recovery
Many forms of cyber-attacks can result in critical data loss, which can have severe financial and operational repercussions for both individuals and organizations. Data backup and recovery solutions can help mitigate the damages from data loss by creating backup copies of data and ensuring a faster recovery in the event of a ransomware attack, data breach, or another form of cyber-attack. Regularly archiving data is an essential security protocol to ensure that you can recover your data in the event of an attack.
AI and ML Cyber Crime Protection
More advanced cyber crime prevention technologies now utilize machine learning and artificial intelligence to gather and analyze data, track and trace threats, pinpoint vulnerabilities, and respond to breaches. For example, ML algorithms can detect and prevent fraud in financial transactions by identifying patterns that indicate fraudulent activity and flagging them for review. Similarly, AI technologies can detect and prevent cyber-attacks on networks and systems by analyzing network traffic, identifying abnormal patterns, and responding to threats in real-time.
How Proofpoint Can Help
As an organization, it can be challenging to anticipate the seemingly endless forms of cyber crime and the sophisticated strategies used by attackers. Proofpoint provides the most effective, enterprise-level cybersecurity solutions to protect your critical assets and data from advanced cyber threats.
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