Identity theft is anything but new – hackers have been trying to steal other people’s identities and credit card numbers since the dawn of Internet. Identity theft is committed for a variety of reasons: while some hackers only do it for fun, trying to maliciously impersonate the victim, others do it to avoid court orders or to gain financial benefits, the latter being the main cause why ID theft occurs nowadays. Most ID thefts are committed online, with the help of malicious software that will be detailed here.
A closer look at crimeware theft
Although malware and crimeware are virtually similar when it comes to their “modus operandi,” there are several differences between the two, and both your money and your confidential information may be at risk – this is why it is essential to understand crimeware and how you can steer clear from it. Crimeware is a global term used to encompass all the malicious programs designed to steal money or information, usually with the help of bots and botnets.
There are several different types of crimeware that are considered malicious and dangerous. For instance, Trojan viruses use password stealers and some applications, known as “Bankers,” are designed to monitor your online transactions and to steal your credit card information. On the other hand, bots can infect your computer and allow hackers to remotely control it from a distance, while phishing software try to convince users to reveal their passwords for different online services, such as online mail or banks. (The concept of “Spear Phishing” refers to targeted messages and duplicate, cloned websites that can easily confuse the user, as they bear a striking resembles to the genuine, SSL-protected websites.) In addition to this, adware (advertising software) is also considered to be malicious, and so are the “dialers”, which are designed to redirect the dial-up connections to various premium-rate numbers, thus increasing your phone bill.
Nonetheless, it must be said that the concept of crimeware does not limit itself solely to the use of malicious programs and software designed to steal passwords and personal information. Nowadays, hackers also rely on various social engineering techniques that aim to gather confidential information from users, by simply tricking them into installing various programs.
Fraudulent financial returns, however, are very common these days as well – hackers can obtain financial returns either directly by using the stolen card number and PIN to empty the user’s bank accounts or to trade their confidential data even further, or indirectly with the help of botnets, as described above. Identity theft is a real and serious problem and it affects not just individual users, but also small companies and even international corporations that have failed to implement an efficient website encryption system or an anti-crimeware strategy.
How can crimeware affect you?
If you do not have an antivirus and a firewall installed on your computer and you do not regularly scan your PC or laptop, then crimeware can take its toll not just on your finances, but on your entire life. Having said that, these robots can steal your personal information and other private data, they can compromise your passwords and steal your credit card number, slow down your computer and trigger a variety of operating system errors, and can also flood you with unwanted advertising such as pop-up windows and other spam messages. Every person with an Internet connection is exposed to the risk of having their computer infected with malware.
A deeper insight into malware ID theft – what is it and how does it occur?
The concept of malware stands for malicious software, and it encompasses a wealth of spyware, viruses and other malicious applications designed to send spam, to steal personal information (such as PINs, card numbers or Social Security numbers) and to commit fraud. The most commonly used malware include Trojan horses and worms, which are usually spread through various downloadable files or by accessing certain websites.
The mechanism of action of these viruses is quite simple, as they are specifically designed to closely monitor your entire activity online and record all your keystrokes. This is how identity theft occurs, especially if you do not have any updated and truly effective security software installed on your computer.
Statistically speaking, generic data-stealing malicious software can be held accountable for more than 50 percent of all the malware present on the Internet – while some viruses are designed just to slow down the user’s computer or to damage it, others are created with the sole intent of gathering valuable personal information.
In addition to stealing your personal information for fraudulent purposes, malware can also compromise your computer and propagate itself even further by sending automatic spam messages and distributing Trojan horses, keyloggers, bots and other malicious applications designed to affect other users.
On the other hand, smart phones and other mobile devices such as tablets are not safe from malware either: most of the time, the malicious software is unknowingly distributed via third-party app stores, where hackers hijack and replace the genuine applications with fake, malicious applications. Once downloaded, the malware will be running in the background, gathering information about the mobile phone user. This technique has become increasingly popular lately, as the number of smart phone users has sky-rocketed over the past decade.
Approximately 40 percent of the Internet users access the online environment via their smart-phones, and this has drawn the attention of hackers, who can steal information from the user’s smart phone through a technique known as “Smishing”. Smishing is very similar to phishing, as it also creates mirror-websites that look like the legit ones, the sole difference is that smishing affects only mobile phones.
From the GPS coordinates and a phone number to the e-mail address, full name or street address, mobile phone-transmitted malware can gather any personal information about the victim. However, as mentioned above, keyloggers are considered to be by far the worst type of malware, as they gather the user’s banking credentials. Fortunately, most of these actions can be prevented by installing high-end technology designed to combat malware, such as antivirus software or firewalls that must be updated on a constant basis.