Cyber-Attacks: Know Your Enemy

16/08/2016

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As cyber-attacks and data breaches are on the rise around the world, a common question asked is “what motivates cyber-attackers?”

Sometimes it can be an obvious answer – if a data breach yields debit and credit card details that are sold on the Dark Web, money is clearly the motive behind the breach. However, an obvious motivation like money can often be a smokescreen hiding a deeper motivation.

What’s their motivation?

It could be argued that the greatest motivator for cyber-attacks today is money. By 2019, cybercrime is estimated to become a $2.1 trillion problem worldwide, and there’s no shortage of attackers wanting a cut of the profit.

Although most hackers are driven by financial gain, recent reports revealed some contrasting findings in terms of how big a gain they’re chasing. According to findings from Ponemon Institute’s research entitled “Flipping the Economics of Attacks”, 67% of UK cyber criminals admitted that money is their main incentive – the same research revealed UK based cyber-attackers make on average £20,000 a year (an average of £8,600 per attack). As these are not excessive amounts of money, it suggests that cyber-attackers are most likely focusing their efforts on quick, easy targets with realistic financial pay-outs – and carrying out several of these; with guaranteed ‘rewards’.

The same report states that 54% of respondents in the UK said it takes less than 24 hours for an experienced cyber-criminal to plan and carry out an attack against an organisation with a “typical” IT security structure. It’s been confirmed that 60% of UK based cyber-attackers admitted that if the time of carrying out an attack were to increase by 40 hours, they would be deterred and move onto another target. This confirms that cyber-attackers are opportunists who like to act quickly, targeting organisations with weak IT security infrastructures in place.

READ MORE: 3 Causes of Security Breaches

Is it always about money?

No – profit isn’t always the motive for cyber-crime! An example being, a private company who develops technology for the military can be the target of industrial espionage – their sensitive information could have military, economic and political value to the attacker or to the attacker’s paying customer. In this example, the cyber-attacker(s) could be state-sponsored.

Another example could be organisations who run industrial control systems – power companies, chemical companies, water systems – could be the target of cyber-attackers motivated by sabotage. This type of cyber-criminal could be motivated by political, patriotic or ideological beliefs.

Other motivations…

There are also more vindictive, personal reasons behind cyber-attacker’s breaches. Businesses or individuals can be the target and the consequences can be detrimental. This could range from disgruntled employees or ex-employees, competitors poaching staff; a business partner; the list goes on.

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Who’s at risk?

Ponemon Institute’s findings show that cyber-criminals are concerned with how long it takes to carry out an attack. This suggests that organisations whose security infrastructure is deemed to be ‘less mature’ are at a greater risk as they can be successfully breached, with a quick turnaround.

AVOID BEING THE NEXT VICTIM: Businesses that take active steps to share threat intelligence with their employees, adopt a prevention-first approach, and invest in appropriate technologies and processes are for more likely to avoid becoming victims of an attack. A solution to becoming more security savvy is becoming ISO 27001 certified.

Hackers are evolving and using more inventive techniques to pinpoint potential victims, often cloning email addresses and fraudulently instructing for money to be moved from one account to another. Employees working at board-level need to be mindful of the amount of information they share, especially online – for example on sites like LinkedIn.

However, whatever their motivation, cyber-attackers are becoming more and more sophisticated in their techniques and the prevalence of attacks appears to be on the rise.

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