The Ashley Madison 'hack' and the new cyber crime economy

Written by Matthew Larbey, Product Strategy Director Published 2015-08-27 08:00:00

Can you help me protect my digital assets within your data centre?

That is one of the more common questions I have been asked during the first half of 2015.

Almost overnight it feels like a whole sub-economy has sprung up around the exploitation of digital information and services. Our reliance on the internet and expectation of instantaneous access to our favourite websites and services has become part of our normal lives, but we only have to look at the past few weeks alone to see the increase and impact of public 'hacks' such as Ashley Madison, The Carphone Warehouse and others.

These attacks are becoming so commonplace that some in the industry are even beginning to coin 'cloud like' phrases such as 'DDoS' or 'Malware-as-a-Service' and it is no wonder that such attacks are becoming more frequent when you consider only a few of the numbers associated with this ever evolving digital crime economy:

£200 - can buy a week-long DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on the black market. [TrendMicro Research]
More than 2000 daily DDoS Attacks are observed world-wide by Arbor Networks. [ATLAS Threat Report]
1/3rd of all downtime incidents are attributed to DDoS attacks. [Verisign/Merrill Research]
Earlier this year, one of the criminals behind the 2013 Spamhaus (anti-spam protection company) attack was sentenced for their part. As a reminder, that specific attack reached over 300Gbps in traffic size and had considerable impact to the Internet performance as a whole. The 'hacker for hire' in question was 16 years old at the time.

Attackers develop infected computers across various networks by spreading malicious software (Malware) through websites, emails and increasingly social media. These machines, once infected, can be controlled without their owners' knowledge, and used like an army to launch an attack. It has been estimated that some of these 'botnets' are comprised of millions of compromised machines. Once developed these botnets are rented out to individuals enabling them to launch targeted attacks against specific companies and their digital assets.

While contested by some, DDoS attacks are also increasingly used to cause misdirection, while a far deeper and impactful 'hack' takes place of the digital assets concerned.

Finally, to give some idea of where this is heading, Arbor Networks, the network security and management specialist, recently published the 10th edition of their annual Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report (WISR).

Arbor's data is gathered through ATLAS, a collaborative partnership with more than 330 service provider customers who share anonymous traffic data with Arbor in order to deliver a comprehensive, aggregated view of global internet traffic and threats.

The data gathered shows a concerning trend – both frequency and size of attacks are increasing at an exponential rate and while headlines focus on big global multinationals being attacked, regular Enterprise companies find themselves equally targeted.

In Q1 2015 the largest attack of 334Gbps was recorded
In the same period there were over 25 attacks over 100Gbps in size
Developing and partnering with some of the industry's leading companies in digital security protection and DDoS mitigation services has kept me busy over the past few months and I now understand more about why this is becoming one of the top priorities for our customers.