The business world has a structure and flow that has been refined over time to help organizations of all kinds operate. The precise nature of roles and responsibilities within any specific business entity can be unique, but form and function often stay similar across industries. CEOs and business owners lead a company’s overarching direction, project managers keep things organized and efficient, and everyday workers hammer out the daily tasks to keep the wheels turning with profits (hopefully) in the pipeline.
Businesses of all kinds have influenced one another, and successful enterprises are often mimicked with hopes of recreating a similar level of achievement and accomplishment. While this path toward progress makes obvious sense for your average organization, cybercrime syndicates often model their nefarious operations in a fashion directly learned from the corporate handbook. Observing how these criminal groups operate can provide insight into just how effective and efficient they have become and why the evolving threats they pose are here to stay.
From the Shadows to the Spotlight
The world of cybercrime has come a long way over the last few decades. What once was an underground network of hackers rapidly developed into a formidable and dynamic adversary to some of the world’s largest business and government entities. This expansion followed the course of advancements in technology alongside the necessary trend for companies across the globe to shift heavily into the online realm.
Images of a lone hacker coding away, wearing sweatpants in Mom’s basement have shifted to vast criminal enterprises that have plans, structure, and support that wouldn’t seem out of place in a scene from a Bond movie. The attention cybercrime attracts also shifted from the shadows to the spotlight, with near-daily headlines of significant data breaches and other attacks dominating the press. Legitimate organizations of all shapes and sizes are aware or should be of the constant level of cyberthreat existing in the modern business environment. These threats are very real and steadily on the rise.
Crime Imitates Business
Taken objectively, success is success. Profits are profits. Lawful businesses are governed by specific rules and regulations. This affects the methods they can use to achieve success and profits based on local and federal jurisdiction in the locations they operate. Structure is necessary to keep things on track and running effectively. Without proper leadership and organization, many businesses fail quickly. With effective structures and systems in place, success and profits follow suit. This same process proves true in the world of cybercrime and their underground organized group behavior demonstrates how they benefit from imitating legitimate business.
Not every cybercriminal group operates the same, but according to research done by IBM and Google, many of them function very similarly to normal businesses. The group will have a leader at the top that keeps the ship in line, directs courses of action, and makes critical decisions regarding who is on the team. In essence, this is the CEO of a cybercrime syndicate. This boss is not beholden to a board of directors but holds similar responsibilities to a regular business owner. Underneath the leader are several project managers who have the task of putting the cyberattack into action by handling objectives that are critical toward a successful campaign. Down the chain from these managers are hackers and coders that may be a member of the cybercrime group or hired on for specialized services, much like when a business hires a contractor for a task they cannot accomplish in-house.
Put all these parts together, and you get a focused team with a common objective. But instead of selling more products or boosting customer engagement, a cybercrime business model gears up to launch a ransomware attack or other act of data theft. These attacks are not the work of lone actors who want to bring down a specific target. They are a focused effort from an ordered entity with clear objectives and various moving parts that work together toward achieving the goal. By imitating legitimate businesses’ successful strategies and structure, cybercrime groups can extend their reach and scope to be highly effective.
Partners in Crime
Cybercriminal organizations also often work with one another to launch an effective attack. They may hire outside specialists who have a particular skill or expertise. The nature of modern cybercrime is like the contemporary tech environment, where several highly specialized experts are needed to put together any given project. This, in effect, creates a demand for cybercrime consultants who have a particular focus – whether that be a type of code they operate in or any other skill necessary for the project.
The willingness of cybercriminals to partner up and work with one another further demonstrates how they are learning effective strategies from the lawful business world. There are even reports of cybercrime marketplaces where these specialists receive rankings and reviews from their peers, which help market their services to criminal organizations worldwide. Trust among thieves has its glaring predicaments, but a dark web Yelp service shows how these underground activities are more mainstream than ever before. Some cybercrime organizations are even attempting to put regulations in place to govern their ‘industry’ to reduce risks between collaborators and ensure stolen funds are properly delivered.
While understanding how a cybercriminal organization operates is interesting, it doesn’t help limit the risk of data theft or other cyber attacks on your business. Data breach planning and response services are essential with those risks in mind. However, the organizational effectiveness of cybercrime syndicates should serve as a reminder that the many threats surrounding a modern business are ongoing and evolving. You need to remain vigilant and well prepared to handle a cybercrime incident. When the criminals become more organized than the victims, it can prove to be a recipe for disaster.
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