Inquiries come by email or SMS. seem unsuspicious. Maybe from the German postal service DHL, who asks you to pay postage, for which you have to enter your own login data. What you do because you might actually be waiting for a package from abroad. And then it happened: you become the victim of a phishing cyber scam. Cyber criminals have my data and can now sell it on the dark web.
Such incidents are part of everyday life in Switzerland. Even more so since the pandemic hit, with so many working from home. That says the journalist and cyber expert Otto Hostettler (55). He knows: “The scams are now so professional that anyone can fall for them.”
Many attacks during the pandemic
Phishing is part of a larger development: cybercrime is booming in Switzerland. The municipalities of Montreux VD and Rolle VD or Suisse Velo, the Emil Frey Group and the Casinotheater Winterthur have recently been victims of cyber blackmail, to name just a few. It is unclear how many exactly it affects, in Switzerland there is no general reporting obligation. However, the figures from the US cybersecurity company Recorded Future show a drastic increase: over the past five years, it has been able to prove 4,799 hacker attacks on Swiss companies whose data ended up on the dark web after the hack. 2,694 of these happened between summer 2020 and summer 2021 alone. It doesn’t stop with SMEs. Hospitals, medical practices and old people’s homes are increasingly in focus, says Hostettler. “The hackers have no more scruples.” He reported about it in the Observer.
The consequences: great damage for the blackmailed. Often in six figures, says the journalist. As co-author of the book “Underground Economy”, which will be published on Monday, he has worked out what is behind the trend. It shows: The hacker scene has grown into a highly professional industry that seriously threatens companies, authorities and the individual citizen.
With a mouse click to the hacker package
It all started in 2015, when the illegal business with a very specific scam picked up speed: ransomware attacks. Cyber criminals hack into the victim’s computer system, suck data, encrypt the hard drive. For example, when the employees of an SME start their computers, suddenly nothing works, or the system goes haywire. This is followed by blackmail: the gangsters demand a ransom for the decryption. If the SME does not pay, they make the data freely available to everyone on the Darknet. Huge damage to reputation threatens, experts estimate that 40 percent of those extorted pay.
From this, the hackers have now created a lucrative business model with an efficient division of labor: “Ransomware as a service”. It works like this: You program malware – ransomware – and offer it on the dark web. Other criminals rent these along with a whole package of services needed for an extortion attack: documentation, updates, servers, payment gateways for the hacked victims, and customer service.
The result: online blackmail has become child’s play. Hostettler says: “Any normal citizen without programming knowledge can now get into the hacker business.”
And the chances of success are good because Switzerland is lagging behind in cybersecurity. Cyber security expert Myriam Dunn Cavelty said in a Blick interview a year ago: “Many SMEs spend too little on cyber security. They don’t have that awareness.”
underground economy. Otto Hostettler and Abdelkader Cornelius. NZZ Libro. 34 francs.
Hacking and Cybercrime
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