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Russian hackers have generated an estimated $2.5 billion over the past year, as state-sponsored groups are able to breach companies in the United States and Western Europe. The Target breach, impacting millions of customers, helped them generate a tremendous amount of revenue, according to the Group-IB report.
Stealing and selling credit card information - among other personal information - helped the groups generate $680 million, with financial fraud also raking in $426 million. In addition to the Target breach, The Home Depot was recently compromised, with Russian-based hackers likely involved.
Both Russia and China have been named major threats to the United States, launching organized cyberattacks with a focus on corporate espionage and compromising users. Unfortunately, hackers are better organized and able to compromise point-of-sale (POS) terminals in retail stores, hack ATM machines, and steal consumer personal information at a rapid pace.
A growing number of U.S. retailers are being victimized by data breaches, leading to millions of consumers at risk of identity theft and fraud - and now President Obama has stepped in, signing an executive order to enforce increased payment security measures. The federal government will now use chip-and-PIN technology for all government credit cards, providing an additional layer of security for all agencies that handle monetary payments.
"We applaud the administration for taking proactive and positive steps by adopting PIN and chip technology for government-issued debit and credit cards, among other things," said Matthew Shay, National Retail Foundation (NRF) CEO, in a statement. "From insisting our PIN and chip cards to facilitating greater information sharing among retailers and other sectors, we are committed to finding the right answers with the latest technologies to stop these cyber thieves."
Moving forward, the President also wants additional transparency when companies suffer a data breach and consumers are impacted. Meanwhile, WalMart, Home Depot, Target, Walgreens, and other retailers plan to use chip-and-PIN point-of-sale (POS) terminals in their retail stores, starting in early 2015.
Credit card company MasterCard is rolling out a new contactless payment card in 2015 that uses a fingerprint sensor. The company partnered with Zwipe, which wants to replace a debit card PIN number or credit card signature, with a fingerprint. Consumers just wave the card near an NFC reader at the checkout, with biometric authentication reportedly safer than a chip and PIN system.
The card will roll out to the UK market in 2015, after a trial run conducted in Norway. The card doesn't require a battery and will harvest power from the contactless till at the payment terminal each time it's used. Fingerprint data is stored directly on the card, so MasterCard and retailers won't have an external database that could be breached.
"Our belief is that we should be able to identify ourselves without having to use passwords or pin numbers," said Ajay Bhalla, MasterCard president of enterprise security solutions. "Biometric authentication can help us achieve this."
U.S. FBI Director James Comey isn't a big fan of the encryption technologies used by Google Android and Apple iOS devices, saying they could interfere with police investigations. The FBI were able to use court orders to gain access to devices, but there is a growing number of law enforcement unable to crack into phones, tablets and laptops.
"If this becomes the norm, I suggest to you that homicide cases could be stalled, suspects walked free, child exploitation not discovered and prosecuted," Comey said.
Comey's comments are ill-timed, as American smartphone owners aren't impressed by government surveillance and snooping - revelations made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year.
The FBI has recently issued a warning to U.S. companies that potential Chinese state-sponsored hackers have unleashed another wave of cyberattacks - and it appears targeting customers and conducting cyber espionage are the top goals. The memo sent to corporations warns them who is suspected of targeting them, and the methods they are using to gain access.
"The FBI has recently observed online intrusions that we attribute to Chinese government affiliated actors," said Josh Campbell, FBI spokesperson. "Private sector security firms have also identified similar intrusions and have released defensive information related to those intrusions."
The threat of foreign-based cyberattacks is nothing new, but the hackers - largely sponsored by governments - have continued to evolve their attack strategies. Trying to stifle their success has proven to be extremely difficult, while millions of U.S. citizens have been caught in the cross fire.
The CryptoWall ransomware has migrated to the TOR network, encrypting critical files that are necessary to conduct day-to-day operations for business users. Ideally for the cybercriminals, users won't be able to rely on a backup and the company will instead choose to pay the ransom for access to their own PCs and servers. Using TOR makes CryptoWall 2.0 more difficult to track down and remove, giving cybercriminals a potential goldmine as they victimize businesses.
KnowBe4 was contacted by a company that was hit by the new variant of CryptoWall, with the IT admin's computer infected - which spread to seven servers in just one hour, shutting down the entire server farm. Despite having recent backups that could be used, there would be too much downtime to recover data and have the servers operational in a timely manner.
"The cyber criminals hit pay dirt with this one and the admin ended up paying the ransom, 1.3 bitcoin, rather than face the serious costs caused by days of downtime," said Stu Sjouwerman, KnowBe4 CEO, in a press statement. "This is the next generation of ransomware and you can expect this new version to spread like wildfire."
Around 100 cybercriminal kingpins help wreak havoc on the world, according to Troels Oerting, the head of the Europol Cybercrime Center. Trying to crack down on cybercriminals can be a daunting task, especially trying to bring them to justice, as Web-based attack activity largely remains a borderless bureaucratic nightmare.
"We roughly know who they are," Oerting recently said. "If we can take them out of the equation then the rest will fall down. This is not a static number, it will increase unfortunately. We can still cope but the criminals have more resources and they do not have obstacles. They are driven by greed and profit and they produce malware at a speed that we have difficulties catching up with."
Not surprisingly, many of the leading cybercriminal bosses are in Russian-speaking countries - though cybersecurity experts also warned of growing threats from China. Trying to bring these criminals to justice is near impossible, with Russia and other Eastern European nations ignoring the western world when it comes to apprehending these criminals, Europol noted.
Banking giant JPMorgan Chase was victimized by cybercriminals, and more than 80 million customers are at risk due to stolen customer information. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said private businesses and federal governments need to better cooperate to defend against a growing wave of sophisticated cyberattacks.
JPMorgan reportedly spends upwards of $250 million per year - along with a security staff of 1,000 employees - to help try to defend against cyberattacks. Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful, as hackers are keen to try to compromise financial institutions. JPMorgan has discussed the breach with other banks, in an effort to prevent them from being victimized by the same type of attacks.
"Cyber is a big deal," Dimon recently said. It's going to be an ongoing battle, and unfortunately battles will be lost."
Computer security companies have had their hands full keeping PCs and other devices secure from cyberattackers, and while mobile malware is still overlooked, the threats are continuing to grow. There is serious concern that hackers will infect smartphones and tablets using malicious programs that are able to act like legitimate apps - giving them access to a large amount of information on mobile devices.
"We think the threat is real; we think it's a growing threat," said Gary Davis, McAfee chief consumer security evangelist. "We think there's a laissez-faire attitude with consumers not giving it the same kind of attention they give other threats."
Despite the lack of mobile attacks, where Google Android devices receive 98 percent of total mobile threats found in the wild, other operating systems need to be aware of security problems. Furthermore, mobile malware still has a lot of room to grow, even with thousands of Android-based malicious threats already spotted by security researchers.
Russian hackers were able to target NATO, Ukraine, European Union and private sector companies using a Microsoft Windows exploit, according to iSight Partners. Russia reportedly has organized state-sponsored cyberattacks, so it's no surprise to hear they launched attacks against geographic and political rivals. iSight informed Microsoft about the problem so the company is able to resolve problems and plug the hole to prevent future intrusions.
iSight wasn't able to confirm what type of data was taken in the data breaches, though cyberattacks originating from Russia continue to plague companies. Furthermore, the five-year cyber espionage effort, named "Sandworm Team" by iSight, also included references to science fiction series in the malicious code.
"Your targets almost certainly have to do with your interests," said John Hultquist, iSight cyber espionage head. "We see strong ties to Russian origins here."