Australia’s relative wealth and high use of technology such as social media, online banking and government services make it an attractive target for serious and organised criminal syndicates. Lucrative financial gains by serious and organised crime syndicates ensure the persistence of the cybercrime threat. Highlighting this, the recently released Cyber Security Review, led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, found that cybercrime is costing the Australian economy up to $1 billion annually in direct costs alone. Principal threat actors to Australia from cybercrime are based offshore.
Cybercriminals who are impacting Australian victims collaborate even though they may live in different countries or even continents. This makes cybercrime activities inherently fluid and flexible. Technology has advanced and will continue to advance rapidly, with the Australian business heavily dependent on ICT systems to facilitate client and business operations.
The modus operandi of cybercriminals can be as diverse as their motivations. Perpetrator profiles include rogue employees, the environmental lobby groups and politically motivated groups and other malicious attackers. The reach and subsequent impact of successful cyberattacks have increased dramatically worldwide over the past five years.
A key element of cybercrime is what is widely referred to as a ‘Hacker’. Hackers are individuals or groups who attempt to gain unauthorised access to a computer system. Hackers break into networks for the thrill of the challenge or for bragging rights in the hacker community. While remote cracking once required a fair amount of skill or computer knowledge, hackers can now download attack scripts and protocols from the Internet and launch them against victim sites. Thus, while attack tools have become more sophisticated, they have also become easier to use. The rapidly evolving nature of cybercrime activities and enablers - as well as ‘Zero Day’ exploits – in many cases gives cybercriminals a distinct advantage over cyber security practitioners.
With spending on cyber security at record levels and the cost of data breaches worldwide even higher, the constant battle against Cybercrime is truly an asymmetric environment; one that is currently heavily favouring cybercriminals.
Cyber threats and associated risks are increasingly important and strategically relevant to government agencies and corporate entities and therefore there is a recognised need to maintain vigilance with respect to emerging cyber-based threats. No longer can cybercrime be viewed as an emerging threat; it is well entrenched in criminal enterprises, has a marked impact in everyday crime and is ever-present. As outlined by the then AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin in 2016 within the ASPI report Underground web: The cybercrime challenge, “Modern cybercrime draws no distinction between government targets, larger corporations and individual users. Its sole purpose is to exploit vulnerabilities for gain. Whether it is state-based, commercially driven or purely profit-driven crime against users, the methods of delivery are the same, and the tactics to defeat it must also be the same.”
As critical systems become increasingly dependent on software and are connected to the internet, insider threats belonging to are an ongoing concern. Corrupt insiders could deliberately introduce vulnerabilities during the coding of inhouse software used to manage sensitive data and information. This could allow malicious actors to exploit vulnerabilities and surreptitiously enter systems, gain control, and launch attacks via and against compromised systems. Reputation is key for organisations and government agencies alike, and a catastrophic cyberattack that disrupts network operations and allows access to private, confidential and classified data and information would cause serious damage to political, public and international reputation.
Cybercrime has been an attractive proposition for many years, with the threat constantly evolving in scale and methodology. It was recently reported in the UK that online crime has now overtaken all other forms of criminal activity.
An individual or small group can cause significant damage and financial loss using basic tools and techniques against much larger organisations and facilities. Moreover, a single malicious, trusted insider has the potential to release hundreds of thousands of sensitive company information and trade secrets to competitors or online groups.
Given the advent of the cloud, and the encryption and obfuscation tools available to cybercriminals, the risk of attribution by law enforcement agencies is quite low when compared to other forms of crime. However, as could be imagined, the rewards can be quite high; depending on the target.
Financial gain is undoubtedly one of the main drivers of cybercrime. Recently, the former head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre Alastair MacGibbon, when quizzed about unauthorised criminal access to health information replied that "… their[criminals] preferred target is cash itself. If you can't get the cash, then you go for things that can be converted to cash. And personal data is one of those things.”
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