[BreachExchange] Why malware is still the beating heart of cybercrime

Audrey McNeil audrey at riskbasedsecurity.com
Fri May 5 10:07:13 EDT 2017


Malware might seem like just an annoyance for some -- something which
disrupts systems and causes downtime -- but it's a tool which lies at the
very heart of cybercriminal operations, allowing organised gangs to carry
out espionage, sabotage, or theft.

"It's really important to understand the impact that malware has. It's a
massive criminal enabler that underlines most cybercrime," said Paul
Edmunds, head of technology at the National Crime Agency's National Cyber
Crime Unit, the UK's main body aimed to fight against organised cybercrime.

While some people see malware as "a bit of a nuisance", he said, its impact
in the wider world of hacking and cyberattacks means that it's an important
feature of online crime.

"It's an infrastructure that's used for compromising devices to conduct
most of the prominent attacks that you see," he said. "Malware takes over
millions of machines around the world and re-purpose them for whatever
purpose they want -- whether that's DDoS, spoofing, or taking over the

Indeed, major cybercriminal campaigns such as banking Trojans, ransomware
attacks, and even nation-state level cyberespionage have all seen malware
distribution to the target as one of the first stages.

Malware shouldn't be underestimated as if it's just the work of
script-kiddies doing it for fun or to show off -- it's the basis of an
entire criminal business.

"It's huge and it's an industry, and it's a really mature industry. A lot
of this software has instructional videos, software updates, patches with
teams working on it making new releases when new versions of operating
systems come out in order to keep functionality going," said Edmunds.

Of course malware isn't the only attack vector used to carry out cybercrime
-- but if you can install a Trojan on the computer or smartphone of a
target, then it makes carrying out espionage, picking out targets, and
knowing when and who to strike that much easier.

Ultimately, warned Edmunds, nobody is safe from cyberattackers or
compromise especially as certain groups of cyberattackers are likely to be
using high-level malware and exploits.

"You can bet your bottom dollar that most of the high profile gangs will
have known about these and used them," he said.

Large swathes of malware are distributed through phishing emails and
malicious attachments. Edmunds previously has spoke of how these spam
emails could be eradicated for good, thus going a long way to solving a
problematic issue.
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