Cybercrime can be defined as any criminal activity in which a computer (or networked device) is targeted and/or used. Some cybercrimes directly attack a computer or device in order to damage or disable it. Others make use of a computer to spread malware, illegal information, images or other materials. Cybercrimes often do both, for example targeting a computer in order to infect it with a virus which is then spread to other machines.
Categorizing cybercrimes can be difficult since there is considerable overlap, However, most cybercrimes can be broadly divided into four types:
Unsurprisingly, many criminals turn to the internet in order to make money at the expense of others.
Online Phishing Scams
Cybercriminals like to target the low-lying fruit and if they can entice an unsuspecting victim into downloading a virus then they will. Phishing emails are a favorite tool of the scammer. These persuade the recipient into clicking a link by posing as a legitimate company or organization (a bank, tax company, popular e-commerce store, etc.) Such scams are often used to obtain bank details.
Another popular method of finance-related cybercrime is cyberextortion. This is where an individual or company are locked out of their files, usually by inadvertently downloading malware. The cybercriminal will then offer to restore the files in return for a payment, usually in the form of a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoins.
More sophisticated financial fraud includes hacking retailers computer systems to obtain customers’ bank details (e.g. the Target attack) and diverting or manipulating financial data. Some types of financial fraud can be extremely hard to detect.
There are a number of different types of cybercrime designed to undermine privacy protection. Although most of these crimes are ultimately driven by a deeper motive (e.g. to make money or drive political change), their main focus is on getting around laws and technologies put in place to protect our right to privacy.
Identity theft involves the personification of one person or group by another. Although some criminals will steal an ID in order to physically represent another person, for example by obtaining and using a passport, much identity theft is conducted purely online.
For example, an ineligible person or organisation wanting to access a bank loan may steal the identity of someone with a good credit rating.
From illegal mass surveillance to hacking an individual computer or connected device, this group of cybercrimes is designed to secretly monitor our behavior. It includes everything from physical spying (e.g. using a webcam or CCTV camera to watch a targeted individual or group) to mass communications monitoring (recording and/or storing emails, text messages, Instant Messages, etc.)
One of the most widespread forms of cybercrime is copyright infringement. This includes the sharing of works of art (music, photography, movies, books, etc.) on the internet without the permission of the copyright owner.
Sending spam is deemed a cybercrime in some areas. Spam can include emails, SMS messages, Instant Messages and other types of communication. Whether the content is pure junk or a well-designed newsletter is irrelevant; any message which is sent in bulk to recipients who haven’t asked for it is by definition spam.
Social and Politically Motivated Cybercrime
Some types of cybercrime are used to force or encourage political change or to deliberately harm or disempower individuals or groups.
Hate Crimes and Harassment
Hate crimes target individuals or groups based on their gender, race, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or other difference. Harassing and sending offensive messages to individuals and circulating fake news about a particular group are examples of hate crimes.
Anonymity and the speed and reach of the internet have made hate crimes hard to combat by law enforcement agencies.
Extremist groups and rogue nations are increasingly targeting cyberspace in order to spread fear and propaganda and sometimes alter and/or cause damage to IT infrastructure. As more businesses, services and devices become connected to the internet, the attraction of cyberterrorism will undoubtedly increase.
The use of computers and connected devices to harass, exclude, belittle or intimidate other individuals is known as cyberbullying. There is a blurred boundary between cyberbullying and some forms of hate crime. Some forms of cyberbullying (e.g. circulating nude photographs) may form part of illicit activities such as grooming and child exploitation.
Cybercrime for Illicit Activities
Beneath the surface of the internet, the so-called ‘dark web’ is used to facilitate all sorts of illicit activities.
Distributing any pornographic images via the internet is considered a cybercrime in many countries while others only ban certain types of extreme content. Circulating images featuring child pornography is illegal in most countries.
Online grooming is the process of making sexual advances to minors. This can be facilitated using various technologies including SMS messaging, social media messaging, email, chatrooms, online gaming chat and forums. It is considered a cybercrime in most countries.
Drugs and Weapons Trafficking
The same IT solutions for manufacturers and distributors of legitimate products and services can be subverted to serve criminals. Darknet markets exist online to help drug and weapons smugglers to carry on their business efficiently while covering their tracks.
Means of Attack
There are four common means of attack in cybercrime. The one many people fear is a technological exploitation using some kind of malware (virus, trojan, worm, etc.). Regular readers of this blog will understand the many different ways in which systems can be exploited and how it is important to follow robust security protocols such as using strong passwords and promptly installing software updates. This means of attack is focused on misusing computers and networks.
The second means of attack is the distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack which uses a network’s own communications protocol against it by overwhelming its ability to respond to connection requests. This means of attack is focused on shutting down computers and networks.
The third means of attack involves a powerful combination of social engineering and malicious coding. Best known in the form of phishing, this method persuades an individual to perform a certain behavior (clicking a link on an email, visiting a website, etc.) which then opens up their device to infection using the first means of attack.
The fourth means of attack, used by those who want to conduct illegal activity such as harassment, trafficking, grooming or distributing illegal content consists of subversion. These cybercriminals cover their tracks by using anonymous profiles, encrypted messaging services and other identity-hiding technologies.
As you can see, cybercrime encompasses a wide range of illicit activities from fraud and identity threat to hate crime and drug trafficking. It can be difficult to neatly divide cybercrime into types because there is considerable overlap. For example, a phishing attack may initially be used for identity theft. However, this fake identity may then be used for obtaining money or a passport to aid drug traffickers or terrorists. It is important to understand that cybercrime is not always about complicated hacking and does not only take place in the ‘dark web’. The best form of defence against cyberattack is to remain informed and up-to- date about the latest threats.
Brent Whitfield is the CEO of DCG Technical Solutions Inc. DCG provides specialist advice and IT Consulting Los Angeles area businesses need to remain competitive and productive while being sensitive to limited IT budgets. Brent has been featured in Fast Company, CNBC, Network Computing, Reuters and Yahoo Business. https://www.dcgla.com was recognized among the Top 10 Fastest Growing MSPs in North America by MSP mentor. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCGCloud.