Profit-seeking hackers move beyond credit cards, eye business data

  • As credit cards have become more secure, hackers have begun going after records that contain personal information but may not be as protected.

  • Healthcare, manufacturing, and military technology companies are attractive targets for cyberthieves looking for data to sell.

Conventional wisdom tells us that data thieves make money by stealing credit card records and selling them to opportunists who go on spending sprees.

In reality, though, credit card theft has become less profitable than in the past.

According to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, credit card records fetch only about $1 each. This is due in large part to new banking systems that are better at detecting suspicious transactions and shutting down cards before additional charges can be made.

Criminals have become wise to this, and now frequently bypass credit card information altogether. They’ve moved on to new opportunities—selling trade secrets and strategies—that can be even more lucrative.

Healthcare records: Less protection, higher payoffs

These new opportunities include data-rich records that often are not well protected but contain information that can deliver significantly higher payoffs. Any industry that has information of value should consider itself a target.

Healthcare and related industries, including insurance, are becoming popular targets because the data in them can be extremely lucrative. Patient records, which typically contain highly personal information, can fetch as much as $1,000 on the black market. That information, including Social Security numbers and family details, can let scammers open new credit card accounts that are less likely to be shut down than stolen accounts. It can also allow access to patients’ full financial information.

Insurance files often may be just as damaging if stolen because they may be directly linked to patient records. Pharmaceuticals companies can hold similar patient information in some records, and their proprietary secrets about drugs, patents, and research also can be sold to competitors. These kinds of sales are high-stakes endeavors, but the market is worldwide and not always subject to U.S. law enforcement.

Manufacturing records: Data with global value

Some military technology companies are of high interest to cyberthieves because of their work with and insights into weapons and defense systems. In 2013, a report prepared for the Pentagon said that designs for advanced weapons systems were compromised by Chinese hackers, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The race to develop inexpensive power systems that reduce greenhouse gasses represents another potential global market for stolen data. Adding wind farms, solar panels, and smart meters to power-distribution system opens additional portals through which hackers can attack the grid, according to Bloomberg Business.

Manufacturing systems of all kinds are at risk as the world market searches for more efficient ways to produce its goods. Robotics and sensor-systems research are leading targets that, like the other technology categories, have global reach. However, unlike pharmaceutical and military data that have relatively limited prospective buyers, manufacturing advances usually are of interest to a highly diverse set of companies spanning multiple industries.

The market for protected data has expanded far beyond credit cards and has become truly global in scale. Any company in any industry that has data that could benefit its competitors must increase efforts to monitor and protect its information across platforms. Cybersecurity solutions and services like those in the AT&T Network Security portfolio can help protect business-critical data and provide you with tools to detect and respond to threats.

Scott Koegler is a technology journalist with a specialization on the intersection of business and technology. All opinions are his own. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.

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