Cybercrime is big business where risk is low, reward high
Updated: May 4
Internet technology has transformed our lives — and created fertile ground for hackers
Despite advances in software designed to identify, intercept and stop malicious cyberattacks — and ongoing efforts to educate people to be more savvy when using technology — cybercrime continues to escalate at alarming rates.
Research indicates losses by individuals, businesses and governments from cybercrime will surpass US$6 trillion in 2021 and those losses are expected to increase exponentially. Not included in these estimates are the costs when attempting to recover from financial and reputational damage (either personal or for businesses) as well as the costs of re-establishing access to compromised assets such as bank accounts, credit cards and personal documents.
Low risk and high rewards for cybercriminals due to lack of detection, arrests, charges, convictions and minimal if any fines or incarceration have prompted the surge in this type of criminal activity, given that fewer than one per cent of offenders are ever identified. As a result, many cybercriminals can garner millions of dollars each year.
Globally, more than four billion users of technology use computers, tablets, smart phones, smart watches and other devices that communicate wirelessly and over the internet. The explosion of this technology has enabled our TVs, refrigerators, lights and security systems to be accessed and controlled remotely.
The “internet of things” has created many benefits that are transforming our lives. Our refrigerator can notify us to shop for groceries. We can change the temperature in our homes from our smart watches and can control our security systems and program our doors to unlock automatically as we approach. But cybercriminals have also found ways to access our devices and gain control over our domains for illicit purposes.
We live in a world that has moved from communicating face-to-face, over a telephone or by the handwritten word, to communicating in milliseconds to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Human-to-human communication is being altered, as are traditional methods of education and advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are progressively having an impact on the process of human thought.
Older people who did not grow up in a technology-focused world continue to be more hesitant to embrace technology and are not as trusting when providing access to their bank accounts or personal information. But trusting that mailing a cheque, instead of using an electronic payment app via a smart phone, is a safer method of protecting your money is no guarantee if the financial institution has been hacked.
Of greater concern is how freely individuals provide personal information that can become available around the world instantly via the internet. Cybercriminals surf the Dark Web while devising techniques to learn all they can about private information, businesses or government agencies virtually undetected.
Personal information is worth varying prices on the internet. Your social insurance number can be purchased for as little as $1, medical records up to $1,000 and passports $2,000. More threatening is that such information is not limited to a one-time purchase — it can be sold repeatedly for similar values, or more if bundled.
Unlike industry, cybercriminals share cyber intrusion and methods of how best to acquire specific data techniques among their peers — a badge of honour of sorts.
There are a number of reasons why cybercrime rates continue to escalate.
Many cybercriminals can circumvent sophisticated methods of detecting malicious intrusions to electronic devices and networks.
Unlike industry, cybercriminals share cyber intrusion and methods of how best to acquire specific data techniques among their peers — a badge of honour of sorts. Four billion users of technology provide a vast victim pool for cybercriminals. The act of sharing best criminal methods continues without concern over the Dark Web.
As more recent generations such as Millennials, Gen X and Y and Gen Alphas increasingly take advantage of the latest apps to make their lives more productive, rates of cyber victimization will also increase.
A 2021 report revealed that 50 per cent of imposter phishing attacks were executed through five apps — Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple and PayPal — apps that are utilized billions of times a day. These, and other apps involve the sharing of personal information. Given current and forecasted utilization rates, cybercrime is certain to become an unchallengeable champion of crime for those so inclined.
In future columns, I will delve into the ways users of technology can be manipulated into providing information a cybercriminal deems valuable and describe ways to reduce the risk of becoming a cybervictim.
Chris Kayser is cybercriminologist and founder, president and CEO of Cybercrime Analytics Inc. He is the author of two books, Cybercrime through Social Engineering — The New Global Crisis and How to Master an Online Degree — A Guide to Success. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.cybercrimeanalytics.com.