Business-like cyber gangs target legitimate companies

As cyber crime becomes more advanced, organisations must view attackers as part of their competition

Businesses trying to protect themselves against cyber attack are facing increasingly organised and corporate criminal organisations, it has been revealed.

While the fact that cyber crime is now, in effect, an underground economy has been known for some time, this research, carried out by HPE, also shows what kind of "business" these criminals are running, dividing them into groups targeting "quick wins" and more long-term strategies.

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The report, titled The Business of Hacking, divides hacking activities and other attacks into four areas: high risk, low reward; high risk, high reward; low risk, high reward; and low risk, low reward.

The most lucrative and low risk of these is malvertising, where malware is delivered through malicious yet genuine-looking ads. This technique has recently been in the news following an infection on Perez Hilton's gossip site in May and an attack on DailyMotion in December.

Andrzej Kawalec, HPE global CTO for enterprise services, told IT Pro: "When you look at that attractiveness of hacking based on financial gain ... [malvertising] does stand out and I think the reasons are two-fold, really. Not only is it a good payout potential but it's quite easy - there's no complicated supply chain, there's no real complex malware needed or change in identity theft. So I think that's really why it's in the 'easy and lucrative' box."

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On the other side of the divide are "difficult but lucrative" activities, particularly organised crime, IP theft and extortion, such as blackmail or ransomware.

What makes these types of attack or malicious activity more difficult, Kawalec said, is the exact opposite of what makes ad-malware easy -- it has a long supply chain, with many components, so much more effort is involved. If they are successful, however, the payout is potentially very significant.

Given the complex and organised nature of cyber criminals now, as uncovered in the report, HPE advises that legitimate organisations think of these criminal enterprises as competitors to their business.

By identifying which threats are relevant to them, companies can implement tools to ward them off. For example, point-of-sale (PoS) attacks will be a risk for those in retail and hospitality, but is unlikely to be for a publisher.

By doing this, the potential target can reduce the criminal organisation's RoI, time to value and also damage reputations, which will make it less attractive to would-be attackers.

The full Business of Hacking report can be found here.

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