Easier Crime For Hackers

How many movies and TV shows have there been about bank robberies and other such heists?  Probably  hundreds, I would guess, over the decades.  Plenty even within the last few years.  It’s well-trodden narrative ground.  In light of recent trends and new paradigms, however, any future screen bank robber is going to look pretty silly in their choice of targets.

“Only the really, really dumb criminals are doing bank heists,” says Marc Goodman, a cybercrime expert at the FBI.  The average bank robbery today only nets criminals around $4,300.  Compare that to the 2013 MasterCard debit card scheme, which allowed hackers to accumulate $45 million in under 10 hours through 36,000 transactions worldwide, and you can see how maybe these thieves would be financially better off turning their attention to corporate servers and databases (Note: This is NOT a recommendation!)  “We’ve gone from one person being able to rob one person, to one person being able to rob 100 million people,” says Goodman.  From the comfort of a criminal’s couch (well, maybe the couch is the syndicate’s, since most cyber criminals work for one), they can make exponentially greater profits with none of the physical effort or risk of sticking up a bank.  Huzzah!

It makes the hackers’ job even easier when their target ignores numerous warnings to implement tighter security protocols on their systems, as the IRS has discovered.  The Treasury inspector general for tax administration conducts an annual audit of the IRS’ systems and recommends improvements to shore up their defense.  By March—a month after the breach had started—44 of those recommendations were incomplete, even though 10 of them had been suggested three years prior.  “I can say it would have been much more difficult had they implemented all of the recommendations that we made,” said the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George, although IRS commissioner John Koskinen disputes that, citing the fact that the perpetrators already somehow had access to the victims’ personal information.

However they obtained it, so far the thieves have claimed around 13,000 tax refunds, resulting in a loss of $39 million.

Goodman’s recommendation?  For important documents to be encrypted, and for consumers to be their own best advocates, to prepare themselves and be aware of their account information.

By: Jonathan Weicher