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  • Writer's pictureESET Expert

7 reasons why cybercriminals want your personal data



Here's what drives cybercriminals to relentlessly target our personal information – and why you need to guard your data like your life depends on it.


Whenever we’re online, we leave a trail of data behind. As our lives are increasingly intertwined with digital technology, our digital footprints continue to grow larger. Some pieces of data that we generate, such as when posting on social media or purchasing products online, could hold immense value to cybercriminals lurking in the shadows of the internet.


Meanwhile, data breaches and leaks remain rampant while cybercriminals hone their craft to exploit the treasure troves of data scattered across the digital landscape. The more online services you use and share your information with, the greater the chance that your data ends up in the wrong hands, for example when one of those companies is compromised by hackers. As each of us potentially faces a range of threats from financial fraud to extortion campaigns, the importance of safeguarding our personal information cannot be overstated. 


Understanding the value of personal data

First things first, what exactly do we talk about when we talk about personal data? Put simply, it encompasses any information – such as names, dates of birth, social security numbers, home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, health data, financial details, photos, biometric information, location data and even IP addresses – that can be used, either on its own or in combination with other information, to identify a specific person.


With that out of the way, what is it exactly that drives criminals to relentlessly target our personal information?


1. Financial fraud

Financial fraud is a most pervasive threat in the digital age. Personal data serves as a gateway to your financial assets, making it a prime target for cybercriminals, who are ever so intent on making a pretty penny. While safeguarding bank card information is common sense, it’s equally crucial to extend this vigilance to any other information that identifies us – and to be proactive in safeguarding any kind of personal information in order to prevent unauthorized access to our bank accounts.


Beyond financial credentials, cybercriminals could exploit a plethora of personal data, including names, addresses, social security numbers, and even our online shopping habits, to devise fraudulent schemes. By piecing together fragments of your personal information, attackers can impersonate you, tamper with your accounts and conduct unauthorized transactions, often with far-reaching consequences.


2. Identity theft

Your identity gives ne’er-do-wells the ability to engage in fraudulent activities under your name, which not only jeopardizes your financial well-being, but ultimately also tarnishes your reputation, credibility and overall well-being. Cybercriminals wielding stolen identities can perpetrate a wide range of fraudulent activities “on behalf of” unsuspecting victims, placing their financial stability and personal integrity in jeopardy.


The more data the crooks acquire, the greater their arsenal for all sorts of malicious actions from deceiving your contacts with fraudulent campaigns, perhaps aided by imposter social media profiles, all the way to committing diverse forms of fraud, including tax, insurance and online shopping fraud.


3. Ransomware and extortion

The menace of ransomware has for years loomed large on the digital landscape. The psychological impact of being suddenly locked out of your devices and data is profound, particularly if it involves personal documents, sensitive business data, and irreplaceable memories.


Faced with such dire circumstances, many victims feel compelled to give in to the demands of the attackers and end up paying hefty ransom fees in the hope that they will regain control over their digital assets. This reality underscores the importance of robust cybersecurity measures and proactive defenses against the ever-evolving threat of ransomware attacks.


4. Dark web sale

Personal data has become a lucrative commodity, both in the seedy underbelly of the internet known as the dark web and in the shadowy recesses of mainstream social media platforms such as Telegram. Everything from pilfered login credentials, social security card details all the way to babies’ personal data is up for grabs –  no information is too sacred for cybercriminals to exploit.


This clandestine marketplace thrives as a hub where illicit data transactions abound, allowing cybercriminals to capitalize on stolen information for further nefarious activities or to peddle it to malicious actors. As they perpetuate this cycle of exploitation, cybercriminals not only profit but also contribute to the flourishing underworld economy of the dark web.


5. Account theft

Account theft is as a direct pathway for criminals to infiltrate various facets of your online presence, including social media sites, email services and other platforms. Once inside, they exploit this access to perpetrate fraudulent activities, spread malware, or compromise your identity. Whether due to a data breach at a company, account or service that stored our data or thanks to the information we willingly share online, attackers can crack our passwords, often simply by using combinations of first names, last names, dates of birth or other data obtained.


To mitigate such risks, it’s imperative to beef up your defenses with robust security measures such as using strong and unique passwords or passphrases and implementing two-factor authentication. These proactive steps serve as crucial safeguards against the perils of account theft and help protect your digital assets from the threats.


6. (Spear)phishing messages

Phishing, especially the targeted variety known as spearphishing, can leverage personal data to craft convincing messages aimed at specific individuals or organizations. Cybercriminals can meticulously research their targets to gather information such as their names, job titles, company affiliations, and even personal interests or activities. With this data in hand, attackers can tailor their ploys to appear legitimate and relevant, increasing the likelihood of success.


For instance, a fraudster armed with knowledge about your online purchases might craft a convincing email posing as a receipt or promotional offer from a familiar retailer. In other scenarios, they might impersonate a colleague or superior within your organization, using insider knowledge gleaned from publicly available information to enhance the credibility of their message.


7. Corporate espionage

Personal data is not only of interest to “run-of-the-mill” cybercriminals; rival companies, governments and other groups also seek this sensitive information. In the realm of corporate espionage, personal data is coveted for its potential to confer strategic advantages and facilitate targeted attacks. Data stolen from employees can become tools for targeted attacks whose ramifications can go way beyond personal privacy.


From industrial espionage aimed at gaining insights into competitors' operations to state-sponsored campaigns targeting critical infrastructure and sensitive government systems, the stakes are high in the realm of corporate espionage.


7 tips for protecting yourself

There are a few simple measures that will vastly lower the risk of your data ending up in the crosshairs of cybercriminals.


  • Be wary of unsolicited emails, messages, or requests for personal information, and avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments from unfamiliar sources.





  • Regularly monitor your bank accounts, credit reports, and other financial accounts for any unauthorized activity. Report any suspicious transactions or signs of identity theft immediately.


  • Keep an eye on breached password alerts and take immediate action after receiving such a notification.


  • Install reputable security software on all your devices.


“I don't have anything of value for hackers”, “why would anybody care?” or “I have nothing to hide” – statements like these reflect common misconceptions regarding the importance of personal data and cybersecurity. We hope that the rundown above helped illustrate just how valuable even seemingly innocuous information can be to malicious actors.


by Sonia Domínguez Waisbrod, ESET

Opmerkingen


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