Robbing and stealing just isn’t what it used to be. As we move to a more “cashless” society, greenbacks and coins are harder to pinch. Banks and convenience stores have less cash on hand as more people choose to pay at the pump, swipe their card or use an app on their smartphone.
But criminals have adapted. Those who have honed their craft have traded in a revolver for a keyboard. And they’re obviously getting much better at taking what is not rightfully theirs.
Just last year, cybercriminals stole about $5 million in data from Montgomery County, home to Alabama’s capitol, the Panama City (Fla.) News Herald reported. Using what is known as “ransomware,” a stealthy form of malware that locks up digital files, criminals behind a keyboard squeezed the county for $45,000 in ransom money so the county could restore the data and get its systems back online. The ransom was paid in bitcoin, a type of online currency that operates outside of the normal regulations managed by governments and banks.
It is a scenario that plays out with an increasing frequency. Like Montgomery County, many businesses, from small to very large, opt to pay the ransom because there is little that can be done and the only alternative is to cease operations. Ransomware attacks have exploded in recent years -- thousands of attacks are launched every day -- and are now costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to the FBI.
But ransomware is just one of many paths criminals can take in the digital age to rip us off. Identity theft is another illicit avenue on the internet that provides criminals a seemingly limitless number of potential victims. And we all know by now the online world is teeming with sexual predators.
Law enforcement at all levels has the authority to go after these new faceless outlaws, but it seldom has the expertise or resources to even begin to put a dent in the rapidly growing problem. That is, until now.
Secret Service, FBI and Homeland Security officials were in Alabama to announce a new cybercrime lab that will serve as a resource for local and federal law enforcement efforts.
Without a doubt, criminals have gotten much more sophisticated in their approach, and because of the nature of the internet, their reach is well beyond their local community. It is a good thing law enforcement is working to keep pace in their efforts to protect us.