Money Makes the Malware Go ‘Round: Hacker Financials
Previously on this blog we’ve covered the devastating financial impact of data breaches for organizations and businesses. And as we embark on 2017, let us remind you that 2016’s cyber crime was expected to cost the global economy $445 billion.
While financial loss is well-documented, today we want to discuss the flip side: financial gains for hackers.
A 2015 TrustWave study estimated a 1,425 percent return on investment for hackers when they use common hacking exploit kits. These tool kits usually cost roughly $1,367 which means one toolkit could return a profit of nearly $20,000, or 14 times the investment.
Experts compare the cyber black market to the illegal drug trade and note that it could be even more profitable because distribution is accomplished electronically, negating risky distribution logistics.
Hackers’ money-making schemes are growing more and more sophisticated (and creative).
Most recently, three Chinese citizens made $4 million by hacking the emails of top merger-advising law firms and using information gleaned in the hack to buy and sell shares to their advantage.
In another recent case, Russian cyber criminals directed fake traffic to fake websites and manipulated advertisers into paying, collectively, as much as $5 million per day to advertise on the sites. The hackers used botnets to perpetuate the fraud. Botnets (also known as zombies or zombie army) are infected computers controlled by hackers remotely over the Internet. The hackers then command these bots and send traffic to whatever site they want from their respective IP addresses. In most cases, bot traffic is used to overwhelm and shut down websites; these attacks are known as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks. But in this case, the traffic was directed to fake websites to deceive advertisers.
Healthcare, the Gold Mine for Hackers
No information is as valuable to hackers as healthcare data. Aside from credit card and billing information, healthcare organizations store Social Security numbers and medical identification numbers. These types of health identity information are valuable to pernicious hackers because identity theft takes longer to detect and allows for multiple fraudulent, high-cost transactions.
Reuters reported that health care information is ten times as valuable on the black market as financial data. The high value of healthcare data is why we predicted healthcare breaches as one of the trends that will continue in 2017.
Attacks on hospitals can come in the form of breaches, in which the goal is theft of medical information that can be sold on the black market. This motivation was behind the notable breach of Anthem in 2015, a major health insurer.
Cyber attacks on health providers also come in the form of ransomware, which attempts to extort money out of its victims by holding data hostage. Ransomware encrypts the victim’s data until a payment is made to the hacker. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was a 2016 victim of ransomware and paid hackers roughly $17,000 to gain back control of its IT systems and patient records.
Good Guys Can Also Profit
Here’s the good news. There are opportunities for financial gain for white hat hackers (the good guys) as well. Many companies offer Bug Bounty Programs which reward ethical hackers who identify and report vulnerabilities in code. Facebook’s Whitehat Program offers $500 for users who report new security vulnerabilities.
In addition to relying on ethical hackers, organizations can make an investment of their own to slow cyber criminals: an investment into their workforce. A prepared and skilled workforce, from the top down, can help deter hackers and limit the financial damage of a cyber incident.