What is cybercrime, and how do law enforcement officers combat it?

Cybercrime is a criminal offense that involves using a computer network as a tool to engage in illegal activities such as identity theft, child pornography, human trafficking, fraud and privacy violations, among others.

Occasionally, individuals who commit cybercrime do so not for financial gain but for personal or political advantage. As computers become the center of business, government and entertainment, cybercrime is becoming a growing threat on the internet.

When COVID-19 first hit, the FBI warned of a rising wave of cybercrime. However, that was just a glimpse of what was to come. Since then, there has been an increase in ransomware, identity theft and suspicious activities on the dark web.

So, what are the types of cybercrimes, and how are law enforcement officers combating them?

Classifications of cybercrimes

Cybercrimes can be classified into four main categories:

  • Individual cybercrime: These crimes are directed at individuals. They include cyber-stalking, spoofing, phishing and spam.
  • Society cybercrime: This is the most dangerous form of cybercrime, given that it incorporates cyberterrorism.
  • Organization cybercrime: This type of cybercrime mainly targets organizations. It is carried out by a group of criminals and may include denial of service and malware attacks.
  • Property cybercrime: These are crimes that target property, such as a computer or server. They include hacking and transmitting viruses.

Top five cybercrime affecting individuals and business

  • Phishing scams

Phishing is one of the most effective cyber-attacks. It is used to steal data, credit card information and login credentials. This scam occurs when an attacker acts as a reliable entity and convinces the target to open an email, text message or instant message.

The user is then duped into clicking a malicious link, which can lead to the installation of malware, the freezing of the machine as part of a ransomware attack or the release of private data.

Phishing emails appear to be from people or organizations you know and trust. They are designed to trick users into clicking on a risky link that downloads malware or requests personal data. Thousands of phishing attacks are launched each day.

  • Ransomware

Ransomware has been around for a very long time. It involves criminals stealing valuable items and demanding payment in return. For businesses, this can be the encryption of company data. When this data is held ransom, the business is usually at a standstill and can’t continue with its normal operations.

Until the data is restored, the company is usually at the mercy of the attacker holding the data hostage. Don’t be surprised when they ask for money worth a Bitcoin in exchange. Ransomware has increased at a rate of 13% more than in the last five years.

Therefore, businesses should be well-equipped to prevent ransomware.

  • Social engineering

Criminals use social engineering to get in touch with you, usually by phone or email. They want to get you to trust them, so they usually act like a customer service representative asking you to give them the information they need.

Usually, this is information about your bank or company passwords. When targeting you, cybercriminals first look for you online and learn as much as they can about you. Then, they try to follow you on social media platforms.

When they gain access to your account, they can open accounts in your name or sell the information in your name.

  • Website spoofing

Website spoofing is when a fake website is made to look like a real one in order for criminals to get hold of your information. These fake websites will have the same branding, style, interface and domain name as a big company’s site. This gets you to trust them and enter your password and username, allowing criminals to get into your system, spread malware and steal information and money.

Most of the time, criminals use fake websites with an email linked to a phony website. Research shows that phishing and spoofing could potentially cost businesses around $354 million in direct losses.

  • Hacking of IoT (Internet of Things)

The IoT is a brave new world that has given the web a look into our daily lives and how we run our businesses. These internet-connected devices collect and share data, whether we like it or not. Data is valuable, so hackers try to take advantage of any devices that collect it. The more items we connect, the more tempting it is for hackers to break in. 

  • Malware

Malware, also called “malicious software,” is any file or program that is made to hurt a computer, server or network.

Trojan horses, worms, viruses, spyware and ransomware are the popular types of malware. These bad programs encrypt, steal and delete sensitive data. They also change or take over core computer functions and track what users do on their computers.

Malware can get into networks and devices and is meant to hurt them or the people who use them.

Depending on the type of malware and what it is designed to do, the user or endpoint may see this harm differently. Malware can sometimes have mild and harmless effects, but it can also be severe and cause a lot of damage.

No matter how they do it, every type of malware is made to take advantage of devices at the user’s expense and benefit the hacker who made or put the malware in place.

Malware creators use real-world and online tools to get their programs onto devices and networks. For example, malicious programs can be put on a system using popular collaboration tools, a USB drive or drive-by downloads, automatically putting malicious programs on systems without the user’s permission or knowledge.

The impact of cybercrime

Cybercrime frequently results in severe financial ruin and reputational damage for individuals and businesses. Below are the major effects of cybercrime:

  • Increased financial costs

First, if a hacker can get into your business accounts, they can steal all of your money. Similarly, if the attackers access personal information, identity theft can also result in a great deal of financial damage to your employees. 

Therefore, to keep online thieves from stealing from your company, you’ll need to spend money on resources to protect yourself. You’ll incur costs such as:

  1. Public relations support
  2. Cybersecurity skills and technology
  3. Insurance premiums
  4. Notifying those who are affected by a breach

In addition, ransomware can prevent employees from accessing IT systems unless the company pays out the hacker. This can put the company under huge financial strain. 

Firms may also need to hire lawyers and other professionals in order to ensure adherence to cybersecurity regulations. If any people are harmed as a result of a cybercrime, the company may have to pay even more for legal costs and damages in civil lawsuits against the business.

  • Reputational damage

Some of the effects of hacking and cybercrime are not just about money. You might be able to get your money back, but what about the business’ reputation?

That’s why organizations use incident response teams to get their businesses back up and running so that they don’t get hit by the same attack or attacker again. If an organization has a good incident response and disaster recovery plan, fixing the damage from an attack is as simple as restoring services and putting in place the right cybersecurity controls to protect the organization.

Companies hit by bigger cyberattacks may find that their brand value has been damaged in a significant way. Clients and suppliers may feel less safe giving sensitive information to a company whose IT has been hacked.

How your business deals with cybercrime can affect its reputation in the coming years. If you work in a field like healthcare, where the security of sensitive data is very important, a data breach can make people never trust you again. In any industry, a cybersecurity problem can cause damage that lasts for a long time.

  • Altered operations

Companies often face indirect costs from cyberattacks in addition to direct financial losses. For example, operations could be stopped for a long time, leading to lost revenue.

Cybercriminals can hinder a company from doing its normal business in several ways, such as by infecting computers with malware that deletes high-value information or installing malicious code on a server that stops people from accessing your website.

There are also so-called “hacktivists” who like to disrupt business as usual. They break into the computer systems of government agencies or big corporations to point out something wrong or make things more transparent.

How law enforcement officers combat cybercrime

Law enforcement agencies have the following strategies to combat cybercrime.

  • Defense plan

Cybercrime is particularly prevalent in account hijacking, cyberterrorism, data theft and cryptocurrency. Therefore, law enforcement officers prioritize what is important by developing a strategy to decide what equipment they need to combat these attacks.

They also assess the technologies they are using and research methods to improve their performance. Among the questions they ask themselves are:

  • Are our recognition and surveillance tools truly actionable?
  • Do we have the equipment necessary to fulfill our objectives?
  • Are our tools simple to use, or do we need more less strenuous ones for officers to spend less time learning the tools and allow them more time to track suspects?

When examining cybercrime, expenditures must be considered. Still, they must also be compared to the costs incurred by agencies in terms of annual spending and lost productivity over thousands of hours.

Law enforcement organizations consider these expenses when deciding whether or not to employ new technology, even those that would ultimately save them a lot of time and money.

They can buy new tools that simplify their work and take less time with the money they typically spend on investigations.

  • Artificial intelligence 

It is difficult to enter a police department that lacks image enhancement and facial recognition technologies. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is one measure that law enforcement officers take to combat cybercrime.

Law enforcement organizations understand how to use the various types of information people have access to, including through mobile devices, GPS, wireless networks, tablets and other access points. Once they obtain the data from these relationships, they analyze it and turn it into useful intelligence that can influence investigations greatly.

By initially gathering this data and then using forensic tools with AI, the police can exploit digital evidence more quickly than ever. Even in the most complex data sets, the software can identify trends and direct investigators on what to do next.

To gain experience in combating cybercrime using artificial intelligence, you can learn practical skills by enrolling at a reputable institution like Wilfrid Laurier University for a police degree in Canada. This helps you develop the skills and knowledge that let you stay ahead of the competition.

  • Using intelligence tools to bring light to the dark web

Even though people have always been drawn to the dark web, the situation worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. More data became vulnerable as more systems and people began to use internet services.

In response, the number of hackers attempting to defraud people out of cryptocurrencies and other forms of cybercrimes increased dramatically. A report from spring 2020 found that criminals stole $1.4 billion from cryptocurrency crimes in the first few months of that year.

To combat this, law enforcement officers use intelligence tools to track cryptocurrency on the dark web and quickly identify data theft by fraudsters. To do this, darknet intelligence data is continuously and automatically monitored and indexed to look for possibly unlawful actions, including fraud and cyber espionage.

The officers then follow these oddities back to the start of the incident. Officers access data that identifies the person who initiated a transaction, the source of the funds, the destination of those funds and the purpose of the transaction. Law enforcement officers can then use the information to examine what occurred and try to make it right.

With the rate of cybercrime on the rise, law enforcement officers are doing a commendable job implementing the above strategies to combat cybercrime successfully.