In recent years, we’ve witnessed a startling surge in cybercrimes, a relentless wave of attacks driven by increasingly sophisticated criminal actors. Their targets are vast and varied, ranging from individuals to global organizations and entire nations, with a particular focus on the lucrative financial sector. The impact of cybercrimes is profound, leading to severe financial losses and tarnished reputations for victims.
But what is cybersecurity, and why is it so crucial in the modern age? Cybersecurity is the art of safeguarding networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access and criminal exploitation. It involves upholding the pillars of confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information. What makes cybercrimes particularly alarming is their symbiotic relationship with our dependence on computers, the ever-growing desire for internet connectivity, and the expansive realm of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Threat actors have honed their focus on exploiting IoT devices, as these devices become increasingly prevalent and vulnerable to hacking. As per Business Insider’s projections, experts anticipate a staggering 23 billion IoT devices in operation by 2024. As this number soars, so does the attack surface for cybercriminals to exploit, threatening our daily activities, be it in communication, entertainment, transportation, shopping, medicine, or more.
The issue becomes more critical when we consider the vast amount of personal information stored on our own devices or within someone else’s systems.
One of the most financially devastating forms of cybercrime is information theft, which is on the rise at an alarming rate. Cybercriminals are continuously evolving, adapting their attack vectors based on their chosen targets. The impact of cybercrimes is diverse, ranging from business disruption, compromised security systems, damage to critical infrastructure, data loss, intellectual property theft, and financial setbacks to regulatory fines, reputational damage, and long-term litigation costs.
A glimpse into the recent Interpol report from August 2023 reveals the gravity of the situation. INTERPOL and AFRIPOL conducted a coordinated operation across 25 African countries, resulting in the arrest of 14 suspected cybercriminals and the identification of 20,674 suspicious cyber networks. This highlights the surge in digital insecurity and cyber threats in the region, networks responsible for financial losses exceeded USD 40 million.
The dark web has evolved into a lucrative and user-friendly platform for cybercriminal enterprises. The rise in computer attacks has raised concerns about the growing threat of ransomware. Cybercriminals are employing various techniques to evade endpoint protection measures, particularly those focused on executable files.
In light of this ominous landscape, security experts must raise awareness of the tactics employed by criminal actors and the tools available to protect against cyberattacks and data theft. The financial sector, in particular, should prioritize cybersecurity by implementing antivirus software, firewalls, fraud detection, and robust website encryption to safeguard sensitive data.
In the realm of crime prevention, organizations must focus on three critical elements: people, processes, and data.
The most effective defense against cyberattacks involves educating employees about common cybersecurity threats. Without proper cybersecurity awareness, employees may inadvertently cause data breaches, placing businesses at risk. According to the SANS 2023 Security Awareness Report, human errors remain the biggest threat to an organization’s cybersecurity. Providing cybersecurity awareness training significantly reduces human errors, lowering cyber risk by up to 90%. Given the surge in cybercrimes, organizations must prioritize cybersecurity awareness training more than ever.
An organization’s IT department should continually monitor, review, and update all processes. Employees need to understand the consequences of installing applications or software without IT department approval. Known vulnerabilities should be closely monitored, and companies should provide secure, locked systems to prevent malicious software installations.
Organizations must assert firm control over the data they handle. Recent studies show that companies often share sensitive information with over 500 third-party vendors. To mitigate this risk, organizations should conduct an inventory of shared information and limit it to a strict need-to-know basis.
Moreover, all sensitive data, including employee information, business data, and customer information, should be encrypted. Regular backups of data stored securely outside the organization’s network are essential.
As the tide of cybercrime continues to rise, individuals and organizations face equal risks. Taking necessary precautions and adhering to essential cybersecurity practices are critical for defense. The future of the internet remains under constant threat from evolving cyberattacks. It is essential to familiarize employees with these risks, secure networks, and utilize two-factor authentication (2FA) for digital devices.
In this digital era, the protection of our connected world is paramount. The responsibility falls on individuals, organizations, and security experts to work collectively in the relentless battle against cybercrimes.
Writer: Gerald Sintim-Aboagye
Editor’s Note: Gerald Sintim-Aboagye is a former British Army Official, currently serving as the Information Security Associate for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) at Wells Fargo, based in London, UK. With his extensive expertise, he is dedicated to combating cyber threats and ensuring the safety of digital ecosystems