Stating that cybercrime is on the rise is rather like saying the world is round. Identifying this well-known fact is no longer any great discovery. But understanding the magnitude of the problem and how it affects us as we use the internet is an important starting point.
Earlier this week, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) released their 2017 Internet Crime Report. More than 300,000 consumers reported that they were victims of malware and cyber-fraud attacks last year (with registered losses of over $1.4 billion combined).
The most common types of crimes were non-payment and non-delivery, phishing scams, and data breaches. The crimes that cost the most in terms of financial loss were compromised email accounts, investment scams, and non-payment/non-delivery. In all, the IC3 received over four million complaints between 2000 and 2017.
The Web of Profit
Advanced malware protection specialists from Bromium, together with Dr. Mike McGuire, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Surrey, released a report entitled “Web of Profit” last month. The report digs into the dynamics of cybercrime and looks at how new ‘criminality’ platforms are bringing about a booming cybercrime economy, generating at least $1.5 trillion in illicit profits. That’s equal to the GDP of Russia.
In fact, according to their findings, if cybercrime were a country, it would have the 13th highest GDP in the world, comprising illegal online markets, data trading, identity theft, and ransomware.
The CEO of Bromium, Gregory Webb, says, “The platform criminality model is productizing malware and making cybercrime as easy as shopping online… We can’t solve this problem using old thinking or outmoded technology. New approaches to cybersecurity will be required.”
Blockchain and AI
There are many blockchain and AI startups springing up to fight cybercrime using these new technologies. Blockchain, especially at the application layer, is certainly moving in the right direction by removing easily crackable passwords. And if AI can be used to help us predict and prevent cybercrime before it happens, that could be the perfect combination.
Scott Schober, author of Hacked Again and President/CEO of BVS, says, “You’re accomplishing things much quicker when you apply machine learning to cybersecurity. You can anticipate and build up your defenses because we don’t have enough manpower to do it. Using AI and machine learning can do everything much, much quicker.”
But while we can contemplate the uses of new technologies like blockchain and AI to fight cybercrime, when it boils down to it, almost all attacks have a common element: human error.
Schober continues, “I think blockchain applied in the right area is definitely going to help secure things, but you can spend billions of dollars in security, you can implement the latest and greatest blockchain to secure things, but blockchain is fundamentally a layer underneath allowing things to happen; it’s not a magic silver bullet to stop hackers in their tracks.”
The Human Element
Clearly, there are a lot of people making money by preying on unsuspecting internet users. And we all know by now the importance of being careful when we go online. We don’t open links from strangers, we don’t download suspicious attachments, and we don’t respond to messages on Skype asking for our bank details.
Yet most of us have been victims of cybercrime at some point in our lives. It’s not surprising that criminals pick the easiest targets (people over 60, according to the IC3 report). But even the highly technically minded among us can be affected too. Just look at the continued Binance phishing scams that have duped more than one exchange user.
And let’s not even get started on ICOs.
“The biggest problem in cybersecurity today is people,” Schober says. “We continually fall back to choosing convenience over security… We were lazy with creating passwords, and guess what? It really hasn’t changed much today. We don’t take the time to carefully vet what we’re putting out on the internet and then it’s used against us. People are too trusting; we give out information too easily.”
So, it seems that unless we fundamentally change our habits and improve what Schober calls our “cyber hygiene,” all the blockchains in the world won’t be enough to keep our account funds or our identities intact.
Cybercrime is reaching a critical point. Don’t make it any easier for the hackers.