The pages of news publications have been filled with updates regarding high-profile cyberattacks launched against major corporations and government agencies. Although these incidents may give the impression that hackers are more focused on striking complex networks with massive quantities of lucrative data, it's important to remember that consumers remain a favorite target for cybercriminals. For many data thieves, stealing from the average person may reap fewer rewards but it presents fewer risks as well.
For years, the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center have jointly released an annual report documenting reports of consumer data breaches tracked by their Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) partnership. In 2012, IC3 received 289,874 notices from consumers regarding incidents of cybercrime, with unverified losses increasing 8.3 percent.
According to Dark Reading's analysis of the study, consumers lost a total of $535 million from instances of cybercrime, at an average of $1,800 per incident. Although not all cases resulted in financial loss, 40 percent of the recorded cases did. For those consumers who reported losing money or other financial assets to data thieves, the average cost of a breach was $4,573.
Hackers take on a number of disguises
Cybercriminals deployed a wide variety of strategies to infiltrate networks or steal funds from unsuspecting individuals, demonstrating increasingly creative means for attack. Many of these strategies centered around tricking victims into willingly handing over their money. The most commonly cited incidents were auto scams, which accounted for approximately 17,000 of the reported cases. In these instances, cyberthieves posed as car dealers and convinced their victims to send partial or full payments for promised vehicles via wire transfers.
One of the more disturbing trends noted in the report was the increased number of hackers who posed as either law enforcement officials or dangerous criminals to extort funds from individuals. Nearly 2,000 consumers reported ransomware attacks that left their screens locked onto a message accusing them of committing a federal crime and requiring a fine to be paid to avoid prosecution. Perhaps more alarming was the number of witnessed extortion scams where cybercriminals posed as hitmen and threatened to harm – and sometimes murder – victims or their family members if they did not pay a large sum.
Less prevalent – though still notable – were instances of real estate scams. Both schemes have demonstrated sophisticated techniques to fool unsuspecting users into handing over their money. Hackers have taken information from legitimate home listings and then created their own with below-market rates. In some instances, the perpetrators have even requested that potential buyers and renters submit to a credit check to add an air of authenticity.
Concerned consumers can utilize system restore technology to reduce their vulnerability to these tactics. Many of these schemes depend on gathering information about potential victims to make their pitches more believable and effective. However, a system restore program can return a machine's configurations back to its predetermined settings, meaning that any personal information that was accessed during a session will be removed after each use. This way, consumers can be confident that their personal information is not within reach of scheming hackers who would use it to steal their money.