What is cybercrime? How it works and how to stop it
Written by a NortonLifeLock employee
The internet is a huge part of our daily lives. We listen to music on it; read books on it; and watch all our favourite TV shows. We also shop, organise our lives, and complete important daily tasks like paying bills and managing our bank accounts.
For most of us, the internet is really important.
However, integral as it is to our daily lives, cybercriminals could be lurking on our favourite websites or in our emails.
Cybercrime has hit the global stage and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon – all we can do is try to stop it.
Why? There’s money to be made, with one report estimating that cybercrime cost upwards of £500+ billion in 2018.
Let’s take a look at what cybercrime is, how it works and most importantly, how you can keep it from happening to you.
What is cybercrime?
In its simplest form, cybercrime includes anything illegal that takes place on the internet through a computer or similar device. It’s most commonly tied to hacking, but it can also be used in financial fraud or bullying.
Cybercriminals are smart people, with a great deal of knowledge about computers and the internet. They’re not only able to exploit websites, code dangerous attacks like ransomware and take down other people’s devices, they’re also skilled at getting unsuspecting victims to do what they want.
It’s highly likely that you’ve come across cybercrime today already, in your email address marked as spam. Maybe it’s asked you to log into an account or to send money to another country in exchange for a fortune.
These scams are go-to cybercrime. If someone approached you in the street and promised you a small fortune, you’d laugh in their face – but sometimes, despite their best judgement, people make a mistake and click on something they shouldn’t.
Cybercrime goes further than this too, as it can also include malware, or malicious software, that can wreak havoc on your life by encrypting all your important files so you can’t access them or by remotely installing a file that steals your personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.
You might think that cybercriminals only target big companies or rich people, but digital attacks accounted for around 12 percent of all types of crime in England and Wales in 2017.
Over 17 million British people were victims of cybercrime in 2017. That’s nearly one in every three people in the country. And even scarier? Hackers took in £130 billion from their crimes in 2017, with around £4.6 billion coming from Brits.
How does cybercrime work?
You’ve probably seen articles about cybercrime or seen a report on the news and noticed how hackers focus on two targets: businesses and consumers like you.
You might think that a hacker targeting a company won’t affect you, but that isn’t necessarily true, as it can lead to data breaches where criminals get access to personal information like your name, address, and any passwords or PIN codes. They can then use your information to make purchases online themselves, or to open a credit card under your name. They may even sell your information to other hackers.
However, hackers don’t just steal from big companies as they can also steal information directly from you too.
Tactics cybercriminals use include:
- Phishing: This is when an attacker sends an email that’s designed to get you to click a link or download a file, either to give away important information or to trigger malware (malicious software) downloading onto your computer. They often look like real emails, for example from a company you use asking you to make a payment or reset a password.
- Ransomware: This is a type of software that locks all the files on your computer so that you can’t access them unless you pay the hacker a ransom, usually in Bitcoin. If you don’t pay, they usually delete all the files from your computer – which is particularly bad for companies or people who don’t have backups.
- Malware: Software that monitors you online. It’s usually used to steal information and send it back to the criminal.
- Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS): Heavy duty attacks using lots of access points or computers to send too many requests to a website or a device so that it crashes.
Cybercriminals have a big bag of tricks: using everything from keyloggers to encrypted files to get what they want. Like any criminal, they want to cause damage and make money – which means they’re dangerous.
Their goals are simple:
- Gain access to financial accounts.
- Create new accounts or purchase services under your name.
- Lock your files or find personal information that can be used to blackmail you.
- Steal accounts of value, like video game or streaming services.
- Communicate through social media or email under your name.
The tactics cybercriminals use are constantly evolving and it’s likely that by the time you read this, there will be a new type of trend to watch out for. You should stay up to date with the latest trends so that you know the signs.
How you can stop cybercrime
You should always be careful about how you use the internet. Confirm that what people are saying on social media or through email is true, and don’t click links, advertisements or download buttons unless you know it’s legitimate.
Make sure that your firewall is always set to ‘on’, and if you haven’t already, get yourself a good security suite for comprehensive protection from the latest threats. Given that cybercriminals are often after consumer data, using a security suite that protects your personal information should be high on your list of priorities.
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