Why Do Cyber Criminals Want to Steal Personal Data from Your Business?

Hacker spy your data file
  • June 20, 2017
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Part 1 in our Stalk the Stalkers Series

In a recent interview, Dr. Chris Bronk, associate director of the Center for Information Security Research and Education at the University of Houston, told Wall Street Journal technology columnist Christopher Mims that, despite the billions of dollars spent on cybersecurity (analyst firm Gartner estimates more than $80 billion last year), “as an entire society, we’re not doing better yet.”

Why? Because cybercrime has become a sophisticated profession, capable of staging threats on a global scale. Most recent example: “WannaCry” ransomware, which affected more than 200,000 users in more than 150 countries. FBI sources estimate ransomware-based attacks like WannaCry alone are a billion-dollar annual business. So, crooks of all stripes – from petty con artists to organized syndicates – are motivated to enter the market.

How does Bronk suggest companies around the world fight back? Retrain all IT staff, regardless of specialty, to be cybersecurity specialists first.

Implementing Bronk’s advice is challenging enough for large corporations, with deep pockets and broad arrays of technical resources. Small to mid-size businesses (SMBs) often lack formal IT departments (not to mention big IT budgets) and are the targets of nearly half (43%) of all cyber attacks.

Of course, a great start for SMBs is retaining the support of an IT Managed Service Providers (MSP) that already has invested in making cybersecurity skills a priority. In our post “Is Your IT MSP a Cyber Security Guru? Check for These 5 Soft Skills to Find Out” we offer advice for finding a good one.

But reaching outside an organization for technical expertise won’t be enough, especially as social engineering– i.e., techniques that rely on tricking people rather than machines – become the preferred tactic of cyber criminals. So, SMB leaders should look inward, too, and develop a secure organizational mindset from c-suite to front lines.

What is the key to a secure mentality? Studying your adversaries. If cyber predators are stalking your firm in a hunt for information, then you should first understand why. In simple terms, cybercrooks steal data from your business so they can steal other valuable things from lots of other individuals and businesses. When hackers breach your network, typically they aren’t seeking financial data to rob your company. Instead, they search for personnel records or lists of customers. With hundreds of files containing multiple kinds of personal information at their disposal, cyber criminals can begin converting data into dollars. Here are three ways they do so:

  • RansomwareWe’ve covered this topic extensively in recent years, as this form of malware rapidly is becoming the leading threat to businesses of all shapes and sizes. In short, cybercrooks breach your network and then lock you out of your systems in some way until you pay them, essentially holding your data for ransom.
  • Identity Theft – Using personal credentials gleaned from stolen data files, criminals pose as other people to defraud other businesses for privileges, goods and/or services. Common tactics of identity thieves include shopping sprees with stolen credit card numbers and initiating bank transfers and withdrawals.
  • Black Market Sales – If the crooks who stole personal data don’t use it for their own crimes, then they sell the files to others who will.

By understanding the motives of cyber criminals, you’re better equipped to defend yourself. And the best place to start defending is your vulnerabilities. More on that topic in future posts.

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ITinflections is a blog that covers a wide range of technology-based articles IT in the workplace, focusing on small- to medium-sized businesses.

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