Cyber crime, as the name suggests, is the use of digital technologies such as computers and the internet to commit criminal activities. Malicious actors (often called “cyber criminals”) exploit computer hardware, software, and network vulnerabilities for various purposes, from stealing valuable data to disrupting the target’s business operations. The different types of cyber crime include:
- Hacking: Gaining unauthorized access to a computer system or account, often to inflict further damage on the target
- Phishing: Impersonating legitimate companies or individuals to trick users into revealing sensitive information
- Malware: Spreading malicious software such as viruses, worms, Trojans, and ransomware within a device or network
- Identity theft: Stealing personal data such as names, addresses, and social security numbers to fraudulently assume someone’s identity
News headlines are full of high-profile and high-impact cyber crime cases. In May 2021, for example, the U.S. oil pipeline system Colonial Pipeline was subject to a ransomware attack that halted its operations for nearly a week, leading to fuel shortages across the U.S. East Coast (Turton & Mehrotra, 2021). In 2023, the pharmacy services provider PharMerica announced that the personal data of 5.8 million patients—including names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers—had been stolen by cyber criminals (Toulas, 2023).
The Impact of Cyber Crime
Cyber crime can affect individuals, businesses, and society in a variety of ways:
- Financial losses: Both individuals and businesses can suffer economic damage due to cyber crime. For example, a cyber attack that steals payment card information can lead to credit card fraud and identity theft.
- Personal effects: After a cyber attack, individuals may need to spend time protecting themselves and preventing further damage. Becoming a cyber crime victim can also be psychologically detrimental, resulting in anxiety and stress.
- Business disruption: Some cyber crimes, such as denial of service (DoS) attacks, are designed to disrupt a company’s operations for as long as possible. This can lead to website downtime, loss of customers and profits, and reputational damage.
- Public safety: Cyber criminals may target critical infrastructure such as power grids or manufacturing plants. This can disrupt essential services and even create risks to public safety.
Statistics on the cost of cyber crime show that it remains a threat to be taken seriously:
- The global average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million in 2023 (IBM, 2023).
- Cyber crime is the world’s third-largest “economy,” after only the U.S. and China (Vainilavičius, 2023).
Organizations of all sizes and industries have been impacted by cyber crime:
- In June 2023, tech giant Microsoft experienced temporary disruptions to its Outlook and Azure computing services after an attack by a cyber crime group called Anonymous Sudan (Bhattacharya, 2023).
- In 2022, the government of Costa Rica declared a state of emergency after many of its devices were infected by ransomware, shutting down essential services (Burgess, 2022).
- A study by Barracuda Networks found that small businesses are three times more likely to be targeted by phishing attacks than large enterprises (Segal, 2022).
How to Prevent Cyber Crime
Fortunately, there are many effective ways of preventing cyber crime, including:
- Using strong passwords that are lengthy, complex, and not easy to crack.
- Avoiding suspicious links and attachments in email messages.
- Enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security.
Businesses and individuals can use cyber security measures such as the following:
- Firewalls control incoming and outgoing traffic on a computer network, blocking external threats from entering.
- Antivirus software can detect, quarantine, and remove malicious and suspicious applications.
- Intrusion detection and intrusion prevention systems (IDS/IPS) monitor network traffic and system logs to identify and respond to potential threats.
Finally, organizations can hire dedicated cyber security professionals such as:
- Computer hacking and forensics investigators
- Ethical hackers
- Penetration testing professionals
- Network security professionals
- Incident responders
- Cyber security technicians
Certified cyber security professionals have a wealth of knowledge and experience in detecting and responding to cyber attacks. These individuals’ expertise with the latest vulnerabilities, attack techniques, and technologies helps them make invaluable suggestions and recommendations on the best way for businesses to strengthen their IT security posture. Cyber security professionals can evaluate an organization’s security risks, develop strategies for how to avoid cyber crime, and then oversee the implementation of these strategies.
Many organizations have successfully used the expertise of cyber security professionals to prevent cyber crime. For example, massive tech firms such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon are constantly subject to cyber threats. However, these companies employ highly skilled cyber security personnel who have been largely successful in protecting their data and devices from attackers.
Responding to Cyber Crime
When organizations realize that they have become a target of cyber crime, the minutes and hours that follow are critical. Businesses must establish a robust cyber security response plan well before this event. A response plan ensures that organizations can effectively and promptly react to a devastating attack and recover from business disruption.
The steps of this response plan should include the following:
- Identifying and containing the threat: The affected systems should be isolated, shut down, and disconnected from the network.
- Assessing the damage: Cyber security professionals need to determine the scope and severity of the attack.
- Mitigating the vulnerability: The organization should fix any weaknesses that enabled the attack, such as changing passwords or installing security patches.
- Reporting to the authorities: Depending on laws and regulations, this may include law enforcement personnel, regulatory authorities, and any affected customers.
One example of an effective response to cyber crime is the Norwegian industrial company Norsk Hydro (Microsoft). In 2019, cyber criminals managed to infect the Norsk Hydro network with the LockerGoga ransomware, bringing business operations to a halt. Norsk Hydro quickly enlisted the help of seasoned cyber security professionals: Microsoft’s Detection and Response Team (DART). By taking strong, decisive action, Norsk Hydro restored its data from backups without paying the attackers.
The Future of Cyber Crime
Cyber crime is a constant game of cat-and-mouse: cyber criminals constantly invent new attack methods, and cyber security professionals seek to defend against them. So, how is cyber crime evolving, and what can we expect in the future?
The ways in which cyber crime is evolving include:
- Higher damages: Cyber attacks are becoming more damaging to their victims in terms of financial, legal, and reputational risk.
- Greater sophistication: Criminals can leverage new technologies and exploit new vulnerabilities, allowing for more sophisticated attacks. For example, many cyber criminals spend longer performing reconnaissance on their targets, improving the odds of success.
Some potential cyber crime trends to watch out for in 2023 and beyond include:
- Automotive hacking that seizes control of a user’s vehicle, potentially causing major peril while on the road. Car manufacturers should deploy tools such as IDS/IPS within the vehicle to detect and block attacks (Ivens, 2022).
- The use of generative AI models such as ChatGPT for more realistic and convincing social engineering attacks on a large scale. Cyber security leaders need to use countermeasures to effectively identify AI-produced content and ward off these attempts (Chilton, 2023).
- The growth of cyber crime as a service (CaaS), in which cyber criminals sell their tools and expertise to others. With launching a cyber attack easier than ever for anyone with the funds, following standard cyber security protocols is even more vital (Chebac, 2023).
With new cyber threats continually emerging, it’s critical to anticipate these risks and develop countermeasures in response. This will help organizations respond to cyber attacks more effectively and become a more difficult (and less appealing) attack target in the first place.
Companies need to stay up-to-date on their cyber security measures, such as:
- Patching newly discovered vulnerabilities and weaknesses to prevent attackers from exploiting them.
- Keeping an eye on new data privacy and data security laws and regulations.
- Improving plans for incident response, disaster recovery, and business continuity after a cyber attack.
The Role of Digital Forensics in Cyber Crime Investigations
Digital forensics is a branch of forensic science focusing on digital assets and evidence. Digital forensics requires gathering evidence, preserving and analyzing data, investigating cyber attacks, and identifying the perpetrators in cyber crime cases.
Cyber crime cases use digital forensic investigators for activities such as:
- Collecting evidence from hardware, software, network logs, servers, cloud storage, and mobile devices.
- Reconstructing the root cause of and sequence of events following a cyber attack, including the techniques and methods used by the attackers.
- Examining and connecting digital evidence such as IP addresses, tools used, and attacker behavior to determine the perpetrators’ identity.
Digital forensics involves various technical challenges. For example, data may be encrypted, rendering it difficult or impossible to understand without the decryption key. Attackers may also use fake or anonymized identities or technologies like Tor to conceal their location.
Some high-profile cyber crime cases solved with the help of digital forensics include:
- Silk Road: “Silk Road” was an infamous marketplace on the Dark Web where users bought and sold many illicit goods and services. In 2013, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation identified the marketplace’s founder and shut it down by examining a trail of digital evidence (CBS News, 2020).
- Lapsus$: The Lapsus$ ransomware gang was responsible for many high-profile attacks on tech companies such as NVIDIA, Microsoft, and Samsung. In 2022, London police arrested seven teenagers believed to be connected to the gang after a digital forensic investigation (Peters, 2022).
Becoming a digital forensics investigator can be an exciting, dynamic, and rewarding career choice. Many digital forensics investigators are motivated to help combat the rise in cyber crimes while protecting individuals and organizations and ensuring justice.
Training and education are crucial for a career path in digital forensics. Many digital forensics investigators have a formal education background, with degrees in computer science, information technology, or cyber security. Others learn on the job or obtain digital forensics certifications to validate their skills and knowledge.
The skills and knowledge required for digital forensics in cyber crime investigations include:
- Familiarity with evidence handling procedures to ensure that digital evidence is admissible in legal cases
- Cyber security fundamentals such as networking, operating systems, malware, and common vulnerabilities
- Proficiency in digital forensic software such as Encase, FTK, Autopsy, and Wireshark
- A strong understanding of the legal and ethical issues surrounding digital forensic investigations
- Critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and creativity when analyzing complex IT environments and connecting pieces of evidence
The Role of C|HFI in Digital Forensics Investigations
Obtaining certification is an excellent way to get started in the fast-paced and rewarding field of digital forensics. EC-Council’s C|HFI (Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator) program is the only comprehensive, ANSI-accredited, lab-focused, vendor-neutral digital forensics course on the market.
Students in the C|HFI program learn to conduct real-world investigations and investigate security threats using cutting-edge digital forensics tools and technologies. After receiving the certification, graduates will enter a growing job market with many opportunities:
- Between 2021 and 2031, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the role of information security analyst will grow by 32 percent (U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS, 2023), and the role of forensic science technician will grow by 13 percent (U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS, 2023).
- The average salary for a digital forensics investigator is over $83,580 in the U.S. (Glassdoor, 2023) and over £36,347 in the United Kingdom (Glassdoor, 2023).
Ready to jumpstart your digital forensics career? Learn more about the C|HFI certification today.
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David Tidmarsh is a programmer and writer. He’s worked as a software developer at MIT, has a B.A. in history from Yale, and is currently a graduate student in computer science at UT Austin.