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Cybercrime is as old as the internet itself. From leaking the private photos of celebrities to penetrating the computer systems of the CIA and Pentagon, cybercriminals have been causing severe damage for decades, and most of them were never brought to justice.
They act individually or are organized into groups. So, who are cybercriminals? Let’s take a closer look at who these people are, what they do, and learn how to recognize and protect yourself from potential attacks.
What is Cybercrime?
Cybercrime refers to criminal activity using computers or the internet. These illegal operations range from extortion to complete disruption of the computer systems, and hardly anyone is safe: cybercriminals target individuals, businesses, and governments. As computers and the internet became vital elements in everyday life, these attacks have become more common. Experts even predict that around 33 billion accounts will be breached in 2023.
It’s generally wise to work on prevention because the perpetrators are hard to identify once the attack happens. Investing in a reliable antivirus would be a great first step.
Who Are Cybercriminals?
The stereotypical mysterious figure with a hoodie we can see in pop culture is usually a young, introverted man who spends most of his time in front of a computer. However, the actual demographics of cybercriminals are far more diverse. Cybercriminals come from various backgrounds and demographics all around the world.
Some of the most notorious attackers were teenagers, while others were people over forty. Although men dominate the cybercriminal world, some female hackers are just as impactful, such as Kim Vanvaeck, also known as Gigabyte.
Their motives are not always money. Many want to gain system access or corporate data at big companies. While sometimes the information they’re after is used for crimes such as espionage, some of them simply want power, glory, and influence. Naturally, there are different types of computer crimes, and we’ll discuss them later in the article.
The Most Famous Hackers
These hackers have been building their reputation for decades. In the beginning, some only wanted to show off their skills, and many were ‘hacktivists.’ A large number of them now have lucrative careers as IT experts or consultants. Let’s see who they are and what they became famous for.
- Albert Gonzales – Debit card fraud. Payment card account theft from corporations.
- ASTRA – They have been hacking into the Dassault group for more than five years and have famously stolen the company’s weapon software only to sell it later. ASTRA’s identity remains unknown.
- Kevin Mitnick – Stole computer manuals from Pacific Bell. He hacked the North American Defense Command and the Digital Equipment Corporation. Some say that Mitnick committed these internet crimes only to highlight the system’s weakness.
- Jeanson Jean Ancheta – Wanted to explore bots, so he hacked around 400,000 computers using botnets.
- Michael Calce – Disrupted Amazon, Yahoo, CNN, and Dell using DDoS attacks.
- Richard Pryce and Matthew Bevan – Hacked into military networks. Reason? They wanted to prove aliens exist.
- Kevin Poulsen – Hacked Pentagon and federal computers. Hacked a radio station and made sure he was the 102nd call so he could get a Porsche and prize money.
- Adrian Lamo – Hacked into Yahoo and Reuters, and New York Times. After every computer crime, he would notify the media and those affected.
- Jonathan James – Compromised the network of the US Department of Defense.
Famous Hacking Groups
There were many notorious active hacking groups, some of which still act today. Most of them have only become known after some of their members got arrested. The following are some of the most infamous hacking collectives. Working in groups makes it easier to organize attacks and cover tracks, so different types of cybercriminals often join forces in penetrating some of the world’s most secure systems.
The Legion Of Doom
According to many, this is one of the most impactful groups in the history of hacking. It is most well-known for publishing the Hacker manifesto, which set standards for hackers worldwide and greatly influenced hacking culture. The movie Hackers broadly referenced this manifesto. Some of the original members were Unknown Soldier, Lex Luthor, and King Blotto.
Anonymous is perhaps the most famous hacking group today. Although they’re very different from the Legion Of Doom, they enjoy a fair bit of popular support. Many people, however, consider them terrorists. Anonymous primarily targets politicians, governments, media outlets, and religious groups. They claim that their digital crimes are necessary to raise awareness of specific social justice issues.
The group launches attacks when they do not approve of political decisions or views of specific people or organizations. Anonymous mostly opt for DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks, and they are decentralized with no clear command structure, making it harder for authorities to dismantle this group. By the time the victims report the online crime, they’ve deleted their traces, and it is often too late to repair the damage.
One of the most influential Anonymous members was Hector ‘Sabu’ Monsegur, who was also one of the co-founders of LulzSec. This group cooperated with Anonymous several times and worked on its own for years, too. They were also involved with Julian Assange.
Masters of Deception
This was another legendary group from New York, mostly known for hacking the phone companies. They decided on the name Masters Of Deception as a parody of Legion of Doom. It is believed that they disapproved of the direction in which LOD went.
The group strongly advocated the idea that people need to earn their stripes. Those who joined were required to demonstrate their hacking skills. Many members got arrested by the FBI after hacking the phone companies. So who are the cybercriminals behind this group? The original members were Julio Fernandez, Paul Stira, John Lee, Mark Abene, and Elias Ladopoulos.
The Chaos Computer Club
CCC is Europe’s most prominent hacking organization. They believe in free access to computers for everyone and work on pushing the governments to be more transparent. They are not known for large-scale wars. Instead, the point of their attacks is to expose computer systems’ flaws so that people can be more educated on this matter. Notable members were Wau Holland, Bernd Fix, Tim Pritlove, and Harald Welte.
This black-hat collective claimed that they launched a successful cyber attack on Malaysia Airlines. Moreover, they claim they once crashed Facebook. The group’s main aim is to target game servers, usually through DDoS attacks. Some of the famous companies that fell prey to Lizard Squad were Playstation Networks, Xbox Live, League of Legends, and Destine. This group also claimed they temporarily disabled the internet in North Korea. Some of their known members were Vinnie Omari, Julius Kivimäki, Bradley Jan Willem van Rooy, and Zachary Buchta.
Types of Attacks
Specific attacks are launched depending on what kind of data is required from the victims. There are four most common attacks, some of which have sub-categories.
Cross-Site Request Forgery and Scripting
Cross-Site Request Forgery is done by taking the user’s credentials, such as the IP address, and carrying out illegal activities while using a hidden identity.
Cross-site scripting works by injecting a code into the website’s pages, which allows the attackers to compromise the machines and perform illegal activities such as cyber fraud or data breaches.
Social Engineering is a criminal activity in which the attacker deceives the user into giving them essential information. This can be done through regular conversation, email or SMS phishing (also known as smishing), or drive-by downloads.
While regular phishing attacks target many users, spear phishing is a focused attack on a particular person. Attackers study the victim, send emails impersonating their associates and simply ask for the information. If the victim doesn’t check if that’s someone they work with and simply hands over the data, it is often too late to do anything about it. You can end up being a victim of cyber theft quite easily these days. Luckily, spear phishing is typically reserved only for high-value targets such as company SEOs and upper management.
Drive-by downloads end up on your computer while you’re on a malicious website without you even knowing it or clicking on anything. This downloaded malware may lead to further hacking efforts and expose machines to long-term risk.
Malware usually ends up on someone’s computer as a seemingly ordinary file they want to download. Once your computer is infected, the perpetrator can change or delete files from the computer or even completely control it. Many cybercrime examples are based on malware, and there are several types of it built for different purposes.
For example, ransomware is a widespread type of online threat. It’s malware that encrypts your files, and you won’t be able to access them until you pay the required ransom. Very often, even after payment, the data might not be restored, so experts advise never paying cybercriminals and finding alternative ways of retrieving your data.
In this case, the attackers use SQL (Structured Query Language) code which gives them access to your device, where they can amend or delete data. This type of hacking usually involves giving users fake logins to fill out, at which point the hacker will get access to the system.
How To Protect Yourself
If you fall prey to any sort of attack on the internet and your data is compromised, report the cybercrime to the authorities as soon as you can. Better still, do the following steps so that a hack will not happen in the first place:
- Back up your important data,
- Never disclose your personal information,
- Make sure to prevent others from accessing your devices without authorization,
- Train yourself to spot phishing attempts,
- Keep your PC up to date,
- Never use weak passwords or one-fits-all,
- Invest in anti-malware tools,
- Secure your systems with encryption.
Cybercriminals are highly skilled, and part of their job is to hide their identities the best they can. Although they frequently go after specific individuals, groups, or governments, standard phishing and other malware attacks are often carried out on many users, so you can easily become a victim if you’re not careful.
Also, remember that answering the question “Who are the best cybercriminals in the world?” is, in a sense, impossible; the best of the best were never caught, so we have no idea who they might be.