In today’s world, cybercrime and cyber-criminals are all around. In most cases they are just a click of the mouse away.
The original geek that we associate with high-level computer skills has fast been replaced with cunning, aggressive and persistent criminal types. Yes, the geeks are still out there, but in most cases there is a criminal mastermind employing them to do their geeky things. In the criminal underground, a well-educated and skilled computer person can earn five to ten times what their corporate counterparts are earning. In some cases they don't even know they are involved in a criminal enterprise.
The cybercrime world has better operational security than most top-secret government departments. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The operations that they work on are separated into need-to-know areas; this allows separate programs to work together without knowing each other's business.
- A minimum number of people know the whole project; they are the trusted people within the organisation.
- No one in the organisation wants to go to jail, so they all protect each other.
- Once you’re in, you’re in for good.
If all else fails, there's a penalty for screwing up; talk to the wrong people, and the public could find your body somewhere. Put that next to the consequences of letting a government secret out, and there is no real comparison!
Cybercrime is widespread because it pays. Why are these operations so successful? A large number of cybercrime attacks all come down to human nature.
In addition to the geeks writing the malware and software code, these crime organisations have additional people who are looking at human nature. There are psychologists who look at what we do and how we do it and then develop ways to use human nature against us. We humans are a naturally curious bunch, and individually we are brilliant—but considered as a group, there are sheep with more smarts.
How do they trick you? Well, have you ever opened an email from someone you were not quite sure about? Or innocently clicked on a link on a website? In both cases, did your anti-virus software react? (You do have an anti-virus, right?) These may seem like harmless mistakes. That shows just how clever the bad guys can be at accessing your computer.
I have harped on about paranoia and common sense as two of your best protections. I will continue to harp on about it. It's not paranoia if, in fact, they are after you. Wherever we go on the internet, it is a dark, insecure and dangerous place. It may look pretty—all that wonderful information, all those glossy pictures, all that free stuff. The internet does have a pretty side, but it also has a seedy and scary side. The bad guys are out there, not very far from where you are and what you are doing.
It just takes a little slip, like putting your personal information or your credit card details into an unsecured website (always look for the lock). That little slip is just the start. The criminals are very good at breaking down your resistance. They look for the easiest way to get your information, and normally that is through you not being suspicious of what they are doing.
One mistake, and your computer, phone or tablet is no longer yours—this is as true today as it ever was, perhaps more so. You see, technology can only protect you when it is done right. In most cases it is not done right. That little configuration flaw, that badly written piece of code, that innocent comment on a web site. It all comes down to common sense. Does it look right? Do I TRUST the site or the person? If so, why? Have I confirmed that I CAN trust this person or site?
So be paranoid: in other words, use common sense. Hopefully the Darwinian part of nature will kick in and you'll survive the internet without losing your money, reputation or identity.