Computer users would be forgiven if they feel a bit these days like the barbarians are coming over the gate. Every week seems to bring the news of some new major hack bringing trusted systems to their knees and flooding the dark net with personal information (a nomenclature which sounds like it was invented to frighten elderly NCIS viewers).
If neither the power of the IRS nor the resources of Sony are enough to keep data safe, what hope do average users have?
Not a whole lot. In fact, according to CNN and the Ponemon Institute, roughly half of all U.S. adults are fed up with the fact that their personal information has been stolen to empower identity thieves. If that paints a bleak picture, the truth about how this happens only makes matters worse. Massive data breaches have gotten more common and more ambitious, according to security experts, in part because the hackers themselves are operating on a grander scale.
It’s trite, if true, to observe that cybersecurity has changed in many ways since the Internet evolved from the days of being that thing in the computer lab. Back in those days the threats suited the size of their environment. IT directors battled low level threats like malware and “script kiddies,” the derisive name for teenagers who download set-piece hacks and unleash them as a form of digital vandalism.
Today the stakes have gotten bigger and so have the threats. According to cybersecurity expert Steve Barone, founder and CEO of CBI Risk Management, modern hackers aren’t just skilled. They’re organized, well-funded and incorporated, often operating formally or with corporate clients. Interestingly, what their attack looks like depends a lot on where they live.
It turns out there’s a lot to the geography of a hack.
Russia/Former Soviet Union
In the former Eastern Bloc countries, Barone said, hackers operate in daylight, many of them even organized into legitimate corporations. Some of the companies exist to make their money by breaking into computers around the world, while for others this is a side operation. Yet regardless, it’s big business in the former Soviet Union.
Which means the mob is in.
The corporatization of hacks may be the most distinctive thing about Eastern Bloc attacks, and that big money approach suffuses everything that they do. Security experts often note this region for its surgical approach, launching targeted attacks against high profile individuals for big payouts.
A Russian hacking corporation may monitor its target patiently, sometimes for weeks or even months, in order to establish patterns of Internet usage. This lets them set up far more effective attacks, such as the “watering hole.” In this particular attack a hacker will set up passive malware on a website, designed to download onto users’ computers and infect them without the original system ever the wiser.
In some hands, it’s a form of effectively broadcasting a virus, an indiscriminate attack on a user base. For many Eastern Bloc hackers, though, the watering hole is tailored to a single user, one who research has revealed will sooner or later visit that site. Targeting C-level executives, professors and other big-money victims, Eastern Bloc hacking corps take their time and go for the biggest payday possible.