People 'n' Issues

Hack Attack: Understanding the anatomy of cyber crime

May 4th, 2017
How do hackers hack? How do they gain access to a network? ANVEE ALDERTON, channel manager at Trend Micro Southern Africa, helps us understand cyber-attacks.
hacking

Our idea of hackers is that of sinister individuals, all working alone, hunkered over computers in a darkened room. This is actually a far cry from the truth. Hackers, these days, are sophisticated, organised and look a lot like you and me.

Investigation and security company Nuix recently published The Black Report, in which it surveyed hackers and penetration testers. The survey showed that cyber criminals can access a network within six to 24 hours in order to extract data. The report also revealed that 75% of companies that have been penetrated don’t do more than peripheral reinforcement of security.

What does this tell us? Attacks are getting far more complex in nature, with many hackers working in groups, or syndicates. Spread out through the globe, and with access to a relative amount of funds, these groups are able to perform in-depth attacks. More than that, they are regularly developing new malicious software.

I am often asked why hackers launch attacks. There are three primary reasons:

  • For the challenge. Some hackers like to test their skills or choose difficult targets to improve their skills.
  • For financial gain. Information can be bought and sold as with anything else. Scammers, rival companies and even nation states pay highly for sensitive data.
  • To disrupt and cause chaos for businesses – usually as a statement or as a form of activism.

There are several ways that a hacker can access your network. The first, is using a method called “social engineering”. This means that the hacker interacts with someone in the target business and cons them out of the information that they need.

Hackers also use more sophisticated means of gaining access by exploiting vulnerabilities, using backdoor controls and going as far as stealing and using valid credentials. They may also employ stealth, using methods undetectable to standard security systems. This is the kind of thing that is regularly portrayed in film and TV.

Once the hacker has what he needs, he is able to target network and leave behind malware, leaving him free to move around the network as he pleases. The information, or data, that has been deemed valuable, is then extracted.

This would logically mean that this specific cyber-attack is completed, that the hacker has moved on, and there is no longer a threat. This, however, is not the case. Most companies don’t detect the hacker’s presence for days or even months. This means that they can continue to remove valuable new data on a regular basis.

The institutions that they target are financial institutions, healthcare organisations, major retailers and more. This means that your personal information is exposed and fair game to the hackers involved.

The threats that a company can face can include ransomware, where malware is used to block the company’s access to their own data. The hacker then demands a sum of money in order to release the data – effectively, they hold your information to ransom. There is no guarantee, however, that once the ransom is paid that the data would be released.

Phishing and whaling is also a popular means of sending malicious links. Convincing subject lines, coupled with legitimate seeming addresses, means that people click through and inadvertently are exposed to malware.

Most common of all are scams. We all know to avoid sending R 1 000.00 to a fictitious foreign businessman, however, scams are not always that easy to spot. Information can be gained by scammers posing as a person from a bank or a service provider, and in that way, obtain personal information which they can use to access accounts.

A holistic approach to security is preferred, with a multi-level approach that relies on endpoint security, employee education and detection systems in addition to the traditional use of firewalls and antivirus.

Hackers not only cost a business money, but credibility as well. It is vital to have the right kind of security and education on all levels.

What does that mean? Prevention is the first place to start with an integrated approach. Vulnerabilities and potential threats need to be assessed and endpoints, servers and applications need to be proactively secured. Prevention also involves a human component: staff need to be educated about not opening suspicious links or clicking through to suspect sites.

It’s also important to be able to detect the more advanced forms of malware that managed to slip through the first stage. Risk assessment and analysis provides insight into the impact of threats.

Finally, if there is a threat present, it is important to respond immediately with creating a real-time signature which is shared with all endpoints and gateway security. This is how you avoid future attacks.

It’s not enough to just do one thing, for example, protection. An integrated approach to cyber security is more effective and can not only save a company money, but their reputation as well.

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