What Do Cyber Criminals Actually Want?

Currently under investigation by the FBI, The Weather Channel ransomware attack is the latest in a string of episodes in which cyber criminals hold data for ransom.

Last week, as tornadoes and other storms swept across the United States, the most-visited media outlet for weather news was taken offline. Why? A ransomware attack.

Currently under investigation by the FBI, The Weather Channel ransomware attack is the latest in a string of episodes in which cyber criminals hold data for ransom. You’re not likely to have forgotten 2017’s WannaCry, which affected computers in more than 150 countries. And a quick cybersecurity search online will bring up countless other examples of hackers holding data hostage until they get a payday. (Take, for instance, recent headlines about The Melbourne Heart Group, which paid “undisclosed sums” to decrypt the records of 15,000 cardiology patients).

This proliferation of ransomware news stories could easily lead you to believe that unless you have tons of data and tons of cash, you won’t be worth a cyber criminal’s time. That’s simply not the case. Here’s a quick rundown of what cyber criminals are really after—and why 58% of today’s cyberattacks are targeting small businesses.

This proliferation of ransomware news stories could easily lead you to believe that unless you have tons of data and tons of cash, you won’t be worth a cyber criminal’s time. That’s simply not the case.


Why Cyber Criminals Target Small Businesses

Cyber criminals are increasingly targeting small businesses, and the results can be devastating. In one study, nearly 25% of small businesses hit by malware in 2017 halted operations altogether as a result. In another analysis, roughly 60% of small- to medium-sized enterprises never reopened after being forced to suspend operations due to a cyberattack. The devastation caused by a cyberattack is unquestionable. The bigger question is why the attacks are happening in the first place.

The answer? Because small businesses have many things that cyber criminals not only want, but can monetise.

GETTING TO THE BIGGER FISH

You might remember the massive Target hack in which information from tens of millions of customers was stolen. What you might not remember is that the hackers accessed the retail giant’s systems through a small HVAC company’s Target access credentials. In many cases, small businesses are seen as avenues to reaching the bigger fish—aka, companies with extensive data and deep wallets.


SELLING YOUR INFORMATION

Credit card numbers used to be the ultimate cash cow on the dark web. But thanks to enhanced methods for detecting credit card fraud, what used to go for $5 now only entices buyers willing to spend about 50 cents.

What’s the hot item on the black market in 2019? Your information. A username and password can get cybercriminals a payday of between $10 and $60. Bundles of information—like those revealed in the Uber and Equifax breaches—can go for even more. Given how many platforms businesses use on a given day, you don’t have to connect too many dots to realise that you’ve got information that cyber criminals want—and can sell on the dark web.

What happens to the information once it’s sold? It can be used for a variety of nefarious activities, from identify theft to the launch of spam or phishing attacks. In 2016, fraud and identity theft from cyber criminal activity caused a whopping $16 billion in losses.


HARVESTING YOUR EMAIL

When cyber criminals access your email, they don’t just steal information. They can also use your email account to distribute malware or launch phishing attacks targeting your contacts. In 2018, the small data firm PCA Predict was hit by hackers, which then used its server to send a spam email including a $120 bogus fee to more than 1 million recipients.


TURNING YOUR DEVICE INTO A WEB SERVER

Cyber criminals can use these web servers to host hacking operations aimed at other computers, or phishing sites that take other people’s information—just as they did yours.


STEALING YOUR VIRTUAL GOODS

If cyber criminals compromise your computer, they have full access to software licenses and other virtual goods. What are they likely to do next? Steal and sell them for a quick payday.

Still think your small business has nothing that cyber criminals want? No matter your depth of data, your reputation is crucial to running a successful business. Cyber criminals can extort your organization, causing damage beyond what even the biggest ransomware payout could inflict.

Just 14% of small businesses say they possess highly effective strategies for mitigating cyberattacks. Contact our cybersecurity experts to safeguard your business’ information, systems, reputation and livelihood with a proactive security strategy.

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