Cyber-Criminals: Extorting Money From a Computer Near You

    By Dan Steiner | Small Business

    Traditionally speaking, when the laymen think about cybercrime, they are usually picturing hackers sneaking into networks and installing viruses designed to destroy data and computers. To many, cybercrime consists of computer whizzes hanging out in their rooms, creating viruses for malicious purposes, all so they can brag to their hacking buddies. It’s a stereotype that was somewhat accurate over 20 years ago, but today? Nothing could be further from the truth. Cybercrime aims to not destroy computers and data for malicious purposes, but instead steal information and data for financial gain. In short, cybercrime is now a huge business, and no one is 100% safe.

    Tricking the Innocent

    This is the reason behind why ransomware and rogue anti-virus software has become so prevalent: by tricking individuals into believing they are in “trouble” or making them believe their computer is unsafe until they purchase “legitimate” software (to which they must pay a fee in both instances to undo the problems), cybercriminals make money, and the victim is robbed of their hard-earned money. It’s an extremely common occurrence, and add to the fact that many of these scams (we’ll refer to them as exactly what they are, scams) seem legitimate (e.g. ransomware scams appearing to be from the FBI, rogue anti-virus software appearing to be legitimate in nature, etc.) with many people being none the wiser that they are actually infected. Thus, many people fork over their money in fear, and as stated above, they are left with nothing more than less money than they had before the infection.

    The Cybercriminal’s “Go-To” Scam

    Cybercriminals are also robbing the public via a method that is an “oldie but goodie:” phishing scams. Even back in 2009, over a 3-month period, 45% of the time users submitted their login information to a phishing site. This method has increased over the years, meaning that if a cybercriminal wants to have access to sensitive financial information, all they have to do is create a login screen that appears legitimate, create a “plan of action” that will have a substantial amount of people logging into the screen (to which their login information will be sent to the cybercriminals), and from there all cybercriminals have to do is sit back and watch the information flow directly to them. And if you think you will be able to tell the look of login screens from the real thing? Think again: there’s a reason so many people fall prey to phishing attacks, and it’s because cybercriminals take strides to seriously make these fake login screens appear as legitimate as possible.

    Robbing the Innocent Blind

    Other methods used vary, from malicious links and attachments being sent via social media and email which can download and install malware designed to siphon the money from your financial accounts without your knowledge (yes, this type of malware actually exists). Additionally, the traditional method of installing malware and the like into victim’s computers by way of Trojans is still used as well. By installing Trojans into one’s computer, malware is actually installed from the Trojan designed as legitimate software, to which the “bad stuff” will then begin. According to Brent Sarkison, malware removal expert at Online Virus Repair Inc., as many as 1 in 3 computers are infected with malware, without the computer user being aware.

    How do Cybercriminals use Your Information?

    The answer is not as clear-cut as you may think. Sure, it makes sense to believe that when cybercriminals gain financial information they would likely use it, but this is not always the case. For instance, many cybercriminals opt to “auction” the financial information to the highest bidder, allowing them to make a bit of a profit off acquired information without any sort of danger. After all, if someone is by chance caught using stolen financial information, the individual that will be in trouble is the person that was using the information, and the likelihood of the individual that obtained the information being in trouble? The odds are so low the risk might as well not even be present.

    Even your email address is heavily sought after by cybercriminals. For example, if a spammer receives a list of email address that they can send offers for pharmaceuticals (you have received these emails in your spam folder without a doubt), when someone clicks on one of the links, they may make a certain amount of money off of the click thanks to a variety of factors such as response rates, pop-ups, and more. If a cybercriminal has an abundance of fresh email addresses flowing to them on a consistent basis, all they have to do is use software to send these offers to the supplied email addresses automatically, to which they are making money without much effort.

    What else can be used with your email address? Again, phishing tactics can be used to trick people into supplying their bank account and credit card numbers. It happens all the time, and every day, thousands upon thousands of people fall victim to this sort of scam.

    An Underbelly as Vast as the Internet Itself

    Cybercriminals are constantly finding new ways to make money off innocent people, and the above methods are merely one drop in the proverbial bucket of cybercriminal tactics. It is a type of crime that is continuously evolving as quickly as the crimes themselves are being conducted, and it seems as if cybercrime will never cease. Luckily, there are methods the public can use to protect themselves from the cybercriminals that hope to ruin your life for their financial gain. Knowledge is undoubtedly power, and once you learn (and continue to learn) how to protect yourself from this constantly evolving form of crime, cybercriminals will be unable to touch you.

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