Andrew Newman is the founder & CTO of Reason Labs, a cybersecurity company providing enterprise-grade protection for users around the world.
Cybersecurity attacks occur all around the world every single day. Whether it’s customer data being stolen, ransomware being deployed or cryptojacking, cybercrime is on the rise.
However, if one ponders the nature of these attacks, there seems to be an uneven phenomenon occurring. On the one hand, there may be a newsworthy story of one lone actor crypto mining illegally, and in the same breath, we’ll hear about entire ecosystems being attacked. From tiny fish to great big whales, why is the nature of cyber attacks so diverse?
At a basic level, one could argue that cybercrime is typically about making money. But when we delve further into the motivations behind cyber attacks, there are four driving forces.
Let’s start with the obvious motive, financial gain. In 2022, cyber attacks driven by a payday are still at an all-time high. Ransomware—where the aim of the game is to hold you to ransom for cash—is a key player.
Phishing scams are one of the most common distribution methods of ransomware and other malware, as evidenced by RAV researchers in Reason Labs’ 2022 State of Consumer Cybersecurity Report. Spray phishing, spear-phishing and whaling attacks are still the number one methods used by attackers to bait consumers into giving up their money. And the attackers are getting more clever. We now have browser-in-browser attacks that are, unfortunately, even more difficult to spot.
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For The Sake Of It
Sometimes a vulnerability is simply an accidental finding that someone tech-curious has found and messed around with. Or sometimes, a prankster will simply want to see what carnage they can cause. So many items are connected to the internet these days that if someone is inclined, the world is their oyster.
The LAPSUS$ Group, one of the most high-profile hacking groups of 2022, seems to consist of British and Brazilian teenagers hacking just for jokes—although they too have branched out into the ransomware arena. This year they threatened Nvidia, the largest microchip maker in the U.S., that they would release 1 TB-worth of data unless a ransom was paid.
Cyber warfare’s purpose isn’t solely to steal a nation’s sensitive data through cyber-espionage tactics or wreck their financial resources. It also causes destruction and chaos to its citizens, charging like a hurricane through a network or device. The perpetrators often want to create a state of fear and paranoia.
Many cyber warfare tactics today include deploying ransomware and finding vulnerabilities in a nation state’s critical infrastructure, such as electricity, pipelines or communication networks. Most notably, wiper attacks have become a common cyber warfare weapon.
Wipers are a piece of malware that wipes your computer. These are used to target computers in warring countries, affecting a country’s integral systems, including medical organizations, transport links and internet networks, leaving small businesses and consumers to become collateral damage.
As a result, we have a collective urgent need to protect consumer infrastructure—so much so that CyberPeace Institute, a Geneva-based NGO, is advocating that attacks against civilians may, under international humanitarian law, amount to war crimes. At the end of the day, it’s ordinary people who suffer.
And as mentioned above, even if the worst doesn’t occur, the specter of a catastrophic incident hanging over organizations, governments and nation-states causes panic and nervousness. The current Russia-Ukraine war has caused many in the industry to predict widespread cyber harm, but how many of these predictions will pan out remains to be seen.
Having mountains of data at your fingertips gives you overwhelming power. There have been instances in the past that display the vastness of data breaches, e.g., the First American Financial Corporation data breach of 2019, which affected 885 million data records, or the Facebook data breach of 2021, which compromised 533 million records.
Data theft of the future is constantly expected on popular platforms that may have vulnerabilities. For example, despite being originally intended for gamers, so many businesses now use Discord that it has become susceptible. This is because there is more opportunity for threat actors to use the platform for malicious activity. Frustratingly, there is little chance of motivation behind data theft dissipating in the future because user data will always be valuable—circling us back to financial gain.
Additionally, hacktivism is on the rise, a major type of data theft that can sometimes merge into the aforementioned cyber espionage as well. For example, hacking group Anonymous’s recent hacktivism campaign against Russia has resulted in the disabling of Russian media, government and corporate websites and data leaks from prominent organizations, all affecting consumers’ daily lives.
Amidst all this international mayhem, antivirus providers are focusing on protecting individual technologies, But ultimately, with so many smart devices and larger networks and servers, everything links up. To create successful defenses against cyber attacks and pre-empt escalating situations, it is important to understand, and get into the mindset of, what motivates the attacker.
Financial gain will always be a driving force for many decisions humans make. We must understand the far-reaching consequences of the invasion of our privacy and wider networks.