What comes to mind when you think about cyber criminals? Hackers in a basement, perhaps a cafe? You may be surprised to learn that cyber crime is just as organized as your business, perhaps better in some cases. In the past year there has been increasing revelations about the sophisticated business models and expert support that cyber criminals employ. This means that cyber crime is a fully organized black market industry.

Cyber criminals from this underground economy have one distinctive target and that’s your data. The credential thefts, DDoS attacks, and malware installations all are attempts for gaining access to your data and selling it. Now with cybercrime-as-a-service offerings to anyone willing to pay. Insiders at your organization may have even deeper motives than just access to data, they may want disruption, not the positive kind either. The Senior Vice President of McAffee Labs, Vincent Weafer,  has stated that:

“They even had a ready and efficient black market for selling the stolen credit card information, including an anonymous, virtual-currency-based point-of-sale payment system. Raw materials, manufacturing, marketplace, transaction support — it’s all there for thieves to use.”

In recent times you may have heard of this black market referred to as the “Dark Net” where all the shady data dealing happen in the modern age. Your data assets are a hot commodity in the dark net markets. All sorts of people are willing to pay for the data. The profit motive can be one of the most relentless motivations currently. So you know cyber criminals will stop at nothing to get the assets they need to serve themselves or their customers very well. Let’s identify some of the critical data assets you should be protecting.

Data Assets at Risk

While technology has had an amazing effect on streamlining operations and work in business and people’s personal lives, there is a great risk in using technology. Business operations and people’s lives depend on the security of information. So what data assets are most important to darknet cyber criminals? The obvious one is financial/personal data, which includes credit card information, bank information, transactions, vendors and clients.In the medical sector, patient health records and data are more valuable than their financial data at times. So depending on your sector the definition of personal could change. There is also operations data, which includes any information about your employees, contracts, locations, shipments, etc. Anything material to the operations of your business. Data breaches that impact your operations data can have serious ramifications and may put your organization to a grinding halt. These are the two most sought after types of data.

If there is any type of data breach and your data assets are seized then you face multiple layers of repercussions. These repercussions include direct financial loss from theft, brand depreciation, financial loss from halted operations, and a general loss of confidence from future customers or clients. The impacts of a data breach can be felt within and outside the organization.

Motives of Cyber Criminals

Cyber Criminals can have a variety of motives. Since there is now an industry and business model for cyber crime it would be naive to assume it is for low level financial gain. Sometimes it may be just customer service they are providing. Imagine a scenario where an employee was not happy with working at your company, while on two week notice he seeks out some way to leave a lasting impression. So instead of doing anything obvious himself, he decides to hire a cyber crime organization to install ransomware on your networks, forcing you to pay for restoration of your data. Your customers find out about the breach and you lose business. He leaves, and the cyber criminals have made out with a nice paycheck. In this scenario it was an insider contracting cyber criminals in a business agreement. So the motivation can be sabotaged by way of an insider or the basic profit motive that comes with being in business. Insider threat is an ever present factor here that contributes to your data asset risks.

Cyber criminals have formed organized businesses and an established industry in the dark net or underground economy. Their forces and motivations can be just as ambitious as what you would find from any other business. They want just one thing to keep themselves and their clients happy, your data. Now more than ever it is important to recognize your data as an asset, any breach of your data can put your business and the lives of those engaged with it at risk. How far will you go to keep your data safe in today’s world of high risk information technology?