The face of crime has changed, as criminal and terrorist organizations have embraced new ways of committing crime. New technology has made traditional crime increasingly risky and unprofitable, forcing criminals to adapt and begin leveraging technological advancements to keep making money. Years ago, credit card fraud was the hot new trend among the unsavoury. Now, cyber-crime has emerged as the safest and most profitable way to steal from unsuspecting victims – from a distance.
To stay ahead of these criminals, the public sector needs to adapt and continually evolve the ways in which it protects its data. Canadian municipalities should protect themselves using a mix of technological defenses and employee training. While strong network defenses are mandatory, educating employees about how to avoid hacks and online scams is crucial to protecting important documents and data.
The Rise Of Cyber-Crime
The new face of crime is not really a face but a mask. Since the 1990s, the evolution of the internet has allowed criminals to hide behind ones and zeroes, targeting their victims from the safety of their lairs. The increasingly large role of technology in criminal activity gives the impression that it is to blame for the results, but this simply isn’t the case. “There are no new crimes, just new ways of committing them,” says Chris Mathers, an expert in crime and cyber-security. “Even cyber-crime needs a human factor to work.”
All information is for sale, as far as criminals are concerned. Banks, for example, are targeted by potential criminal activity 50 to 60 times per hour. Brute force software, which uses trial and error to attempt to decode encrypted data, can guess 8 billion password variations per minute.
Ransomware has also gained popularity in the last few years, with hackers holding information for ransom – or sometimes threatening to publish it, depending on the nature of the documents – until they receive a payment. The Petya, NotPetya and WannaCry ransomware attacks of 2017 targeted businesses across the globe, costing them billions of dollars combined.
Technological advancements have made criminals smarter and more efficient, but even the most advanced tools have limitations. Cyber-criminals tend to cast a wide net. Unless a device is being directly targeted for a specific purpose, having a strong password and avoiding clicking on suspicious links and documents can help keep hackers and malicious software at bay.
Cyber-attacks can come from unexpected sources. Anything connected to the internet or equipped with Bluetooth technology can be hacked. This includes technology found in many homes, like digital thermostats, security systems or even smart fridges. Hacking one device connected to a home or office network can give criminals access to the entire network, often without anyone noticing.
In 2016, Mirai malware infected about 100,000 IoT devices such as smartphones, routers and webcams, leading to a series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that temporarily shut down Netflix, Twitter and Airbnb, among other high-profile websites.1
Computers are also still a prime target: criminals commonly use a key logger – a device that looks like a USB key – to record every keystroke made. This grants them access to passwords and other important and confidential information.
Even methods of paying for criminal activities to be committed have become untraceable. On the digital black market, or ‘dark web,’ crypto-currencies are used as payment for nefarious acts. As the most popular crypto-currency, Bitcoin has become the virtual currency of crime. Bitcoin users are identified only by a number, giving criminals a considerable degree of anonymity. Bitcoin has been connected to various crimes, including fraud, hacking and buying illegal goods.