December 2015

The world is full of both honest and dishonest individuals. Many dishonest people never become criminals for the fear of getting caught. Advanced security features make it more challenging then ever to rob a bank for fear of being identified on camera for instance. Even worse, more armed robbers end up shot and killed during bank robberies than any victims.

According to the FBI, in 2010 there were 16 people total killed during bank robberies, 13 of which were the perpetrators. Unlike most movies would have us believe, thieves are not criminal masterminds that sip pina coladas on the beach all day while counting their money. The reality is that most end up caught and doing time behind bars.

Bank Robbers Make a Career Change
So what is a dishonest person to do? Many resort to a career shift and go back to school to learn the ins and outs of computer networks. Going digital has some distinct advantages that allow cyber thieves to stay safe and anonymous. In analyzing cyber crimes, there are some clear benefits in choosing a computer over a gun. First, we are all connected 24/7 to our banks, homes, and other people.

Today’s cyber thief can pick and choose their working hours to hack into the online bank or social network of their choice. Cyber thieves are also usually isolated from their victims, which may help ease their conscience (if they have one). The same technology that connects us all also allows for us to remain emotionally detached very easily.

Educating a Criminal in Dark Web
Cyber thieves are generous with sharing and selling information in the dark Web. There are ample tutorials on how to compromise the mag stripe data from one’s credit card, how to socially engineer information for ID theft, and how to hack a password in six seconds all on the dark Web. Cyber thieves can buy and deploy the latest strains of ransomware for their victims’ mobile phones or PCs. Once the unsuspecting malware is installed, the victims’ personal data is encrypted and only decrypted for a ransom that is usually paid in bitcoin (anonymous digital currency commonly used for illegal transactions).

To add to the anxiety, cyber thieves will limit the payment window to less than a week before the ransom doubles. This is just one illegal approach that some cybercriminals take. There are thousands of ways to extort money and steal data and even more criminals happy to share their own results all on the dark Web.

Criminals Trade in Their Masks and Hide behind the Tor Network
Criminals wear disguises or masks so witnesses and cameras cannot identify them easily, but cyber thieves utilize the Tor network and browser to mask their activities. Tor (the Onion router) is free software that allows individuals (good or bad) to bypass typical network surveillance on the Internet.

Tor is a network of donated servers run by volunteers around the globe, and it provides anonymity by bouncing Web traffic through a randomized series of encrypted servers located around the world. This makes Tor users difficult to track online much less ever catching them.

From Infamous to Famous
While most hackers remain underground, there is a growing trend for all kinds of illegal cybercriminals to brag and showboat their illegal feats. We saw it in the Sony hacks and we continue to see it through the Ashley Madison data dumps.

Hackers, no matter how anonymous, will continue to leave their calling cards in order to identify their own work to the world like famous painters.

These stamps that they leave identify patterns and deliver valuable clues to investigators. So long as criminals continue to be drawn to the spotlight, the authorities will continue to tail and capture them too.

By Scott Schober, President, CEO, and cyber security expert, Berkeley Varitronics
Systems, Inc.

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