Identity theft is not a new crime, but it’s constantly evolving and changing shape as technology improves. Additionally, it is an illegal activity that’s difficult to identify in time. Usually, by the time you realize your identity has been used by someone else, it’s already too late (as in the damage has been done).
Moreover, thieves that understand the importance of personal information are not specific to the digital age. People were dumpster diving and check washing long before the internet opened the door to a more diverse world.
In the age of the internet, as people started using emails and posting things online, ill-intended actors could act from the comfort of their couch (or their basement, depending on their preference). Email phishing and schemes like the “Nigerian prince” meant that you didn’t need advanced technical knowledge to trick people into offering their sensitive information.
As the world became more aware of cyberattacks and online fraud, cybercriminals were forced to up their game. Still, if you’re a frequent visitor of the Dark Web and don’t mind spending a few Bitcoins (or any other cryptocurrency), you can buy entire databases with people’s personal information and even credit card IDs.
However, with the development of protection methods such as malware, anti-spam software, and even a dedicated fraud protection service (among others), identity theft is no longer a risk-free operation that can easily fool people.
So does this mean cybercriminals gave up on stealing sensitive information? Sadly, the answer is no. Just like in the past, they adapted and found new methods to get what they want. What’s even more interesting, since the stakes are higher, they tend to go for extremely valuable information such as social security numbers or financial credentials.
Social Media & Mobile Devices
Most people in developed and growing countries own at least one smartphone which they use for online browsing, social media, pictures, and staying in touch. Additionally, they use the same smartphone to make payments, check their bank accounts, and perform activities that tend to involve some sort of data exchange.
Therefore, cybercriminals adapted to the world of mobile devices, creating spam, spyware, and malware software for mobile operating systems. And they were quite successful (at least at first) since few smartphone users think about the health and security of their devices.
On the upside (for users) modern smartphones come equipped with protection software, which makes it more difficult for cybercriminals to steal data. On the downside, phishing attacks are more ingenious nowadays, and it’s very difficult to tell a fake site or app apart from a genuine one.
The Rise of Ransomware & Data Leaks
The last couple of years were marked by a wave of ransomware attacks and data leaks aimed at large organizations and even governmental institutions. Both types of attacks are extremely efficient in extracting large amounts of sensitive data and never end well for the victim (even when they do the unthinkable and pay the ransom).
Even more important, this type of attack is usually made possible by the human factor in the protection chain. The lack of specialized training and lax security rules when it comes to company data security and proper management means employees are not prepared to face a threat and identify the risks in time.
What About the Future?
Up until now, cybercriminals always found ways to obtain the type of information they wanted. However, as the technology we use gets more sophisticated, their attacks don’t work as effectively. For instance, many people know by now that the Nigerian prince scheme is a scam and that phishing is a real threat.
The advancement of technology seems to promise better security to anyone willing to pay attention. However, cybersecurity is not something we can do once and forget about it. We need a layered approach, with constant maintenance and updates, to make sure prying eyes can’t take a peak.
True, we should also expect more ingenious methods of attack, such as IoT attacks or listening to our conversations with the help of smart speakers. Even more, it seems that autonomous vehicles are also at risk from hackers who may be able to take control (which is not something anyone would want). Still, prepared users who stay up to date with the latest developments in cybersecurity and cyber threats are a lot more difficult to fool into giving away their data. And this is a very good thing.
Author | Emily Forbes
An Entrepreneur, Mother & A passionate tech writer in the technology industry!