Cybercrime Has Become a Commodity

Today’s cybercriminals have new options that make their malicious efforts easier than ever. Cyberattacks can be purchased in several forms, including as-a-service packages and simple downloads to be installed in rogue servers. While these may not be the most cutting-edge techniques, they can be effective in infiltrating systems that have not been sufficiently patched. Chief information security officers (CISOs) must take precautions to close access gaps and patch all systems with current updates.

Cybercrime: A Proud Tradition

Many threat actors are social and take pride in their accomplishments. Some even perpetrate cybercrime purely for their own satisfaction, merely leaving “gotcha” messages instead of stealing valuable information. But most large-scale attacks, such as the WannaCry ransomware campaign that recently infiltrated and encrypted the contents of thousands of computers, are financially motivated and designed to cause widespread damage.

This combination of pride and financial motivation shows up in many readily available cybercrime tools that enable less dedicated — and presumably less skilled — fraudsters to launch their own cyber invasions. Many of these tools can be found through basic searches, while others are available only in private networks and on the Dark Web. Both types of tools can be used to gain access to computer networks.

Cybercriminals also use malicious tools to break into shared servers. Once they have control of a server, they execute scripts to install full libraries, then run the programs automatically to either search randomly or attack specific networks. The social component kicks in when the list of compromised servers is shared with others who can use the resources for their own purposes.

Tools such as WannaCry are custom-created for specific purposes and events. In the case of this ransomware, financial proceeds were directed to a bitcoin account. But the pool of more generic, free tools is staggering in its comprehensive breadth and the variety of targeted technologies.

Useful Tools in the Wrong Hands

Several websites produce lists of top hacking tools, ostensibly meant for reference by ethical researchers and enterprise security teams for penetration testing. But would-be fraudsters can use those same lists for reference in pursuit of far less noble goals. Once a set of tools has been installed on a server and advertised for use, the process can be duplicated, put on other servers and quickly spread.

Below are a few functions that small-time threat actors can buy to help analyze networks and servers to identify weaknesses in potential targets. Some are probably scanning your networks right now.

  • Network mapping: A port scanning tool searches the network looking for open ports and devices. Network admins use this for legitimate inventory discovery.
  • Web vulnerability scanners: These are the most basic tool for finding flaws in a website that will allow unauthorized access to the server. They are commonly used to discover WordPress vulnerabilities.
  • Tool collections: These single collections make it easier for anyone to find and use exploits. They take a little education but no programming, and can be scripted to create customized tools.
  • Password crackers: These tools help fraudsters find the easy way into networks and their data. Password crackers have become very sophisticated and fast.

The list of malicious tools available to would-be cybercriminals is growing, and the techniques are becoming more sophisticated. To keep up with the trend, CISOs should learn where to find the ethical hacking tools available and how to use them.

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Scott Koegler

Freelance Writer and Former CIO

Scott Koegler practiced IT as a CIO for 15 years. He also has more than 20 years experience as a technology journalist covering topics ranging from software and services through business strategy. Scott publishes ec-bp.com, a supply chain industry newsletter and has written for publications including Network Computing, Forbes, Internet Evolution, and many others.