Lessons Learned from the Evolution of Cybercrime

The history of cybercrime brings with it a lot of lessons that small businesses can learn from. Because, let’s face it, if we don’t learn from the past – we’re doomed to make the same mistakes as our predecessors. So, let’s dig into the evolution of cybercrime and what you should take away from these events. 

Table of Contents

Why Small Businesses Are Targets of Cybercrime

As we discussed in our previous article, hackers are very interested in your small business. Why? Because they know most SMBs don’t have sufficient security measures.  

This awareness means they can easily scam their way into money – either directly or indirectly. Say…through all that unsecured data on your network. 

But there’s more to the story, of course. Many bad actors simply want to leverage the access they gain from your small business as a stepping stone to attack larger networks in supply chain attacks.  

Your organization is just an easy access point for them to get a larger reward. 

A good example of a supply chain attack happened against Target in 2013. It all started after Target gave network access to a third-party vendor, a small Pennsylvania HVAC Company called Fazio Mechanical Services, for maintenance purposes. How’d it happen?  

In a detailed report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (2014), it was stated that Fazio Mechanical Services “did not appear to follow broadly accepted information security practices.”  

It was the smaller company’s weak security that led to the attack – compromising the financial and personal information of as many as 110 million Target customers. Unsurprisingly, events like this lead to operational disruption, reputational damage, and financial loss. 

But, we can learn a lot from these cyberattacks…. 

Evolution of Cybercrime

The landscape of cybercrime has undergone a dramatic transformation. It has evolved from mere rudimentary hacks to today’s sophisticated cyber attacks.  

So, what lessons does this progression hold for small businesses? Let’s start at the beginning. 

The Early Years of Cybercrime

Allen Scherr completed one of the earliest cyberattacks – dating back to 1962… if you can believe that. He stole passwords from MIT’s computer network using punch cards.  

These early hacking events ranged from simple viruses to the first major cyber attack on the Internet in 1988. 

Hacking timeline 1980s

Although we didn’t know it, the early days of cybercrime really set the stage for what to expect from the rise of technologies in our daily lives – both personally and professionally. 

Big Damages from Lack of Controls

The 1990s marked a significant turning point in the history of cybercrime it had a noticeable increase in digital threats. This surge was largely due to two key factors that are particularly relevant to us today.  

First, during the 1990s, the rapid development of new technologies outpaced the implementation of safety controls. Many of the systems and networks during this time lacked the robust security measures we consider essential today. This lack of security created vulnerabilities that cybercriminals were quick to exploit.  

Hacking timeline 1990s

Second, these technological advancements came at a time when there was an inherent human nature to trust in the digital realm. People were less aware of cyber threats and more likely to take digital security for granted. 

This meant that cybercriminals were free to exploit through a variety of methods – including phishing attacks and identity theft. Do you remember the Nigerian Prince email scam from the 90s?   

It’s one of the longest-running scams. In fact, it’s still going strong – claiming $700K a year in 2019. 

Lessons from the 1990s 

The threats of the early days of the internet through the 1990s highlight the critical need for ongoing cybersecurity training for all of your staff – including interns and volunteers. Implementing training can significantly reduce your vulnerability to cyber attacks. 

Additionally, these early lessons showcase the importance of regularly updating and strengthening your digital infrastructure – especially as you adopt new technologies.  

The Rise of Sophisticated Cyber Threats

The 2000s were a transformative decade in the cybersecurity landscape – bringing with it an escalation in cyber threats.

Hacking timeline 2000s

This period generated a rise in Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors. This growth led to the emergence of new, potent viruses and worms. While it left a significant mark on the global digital economy, it also pushed cybersecurity awareness to new heights. 

Lessons from the 2000s 

The 2008 Heartland Payment Systems breach underscores the importance of data protection strategies. Adopting measures such as SQL injection prevention, strong password policies, and malware defense systems is essential to protect your small business. 

The evolving threat of APTs, on the other hand, requires a more comprehensive, layered approach to cybersecurity. Integrating the foundational measures, we mentioned earlier, with continuous monitoring and strategic incident response planning empowers your small business to effectively counter and mitigate potential breaches.

The Growth of Organized Cybercrime

The 2010s continued the strong evolution of the cybercrime landscape. It was characterized by a surge in sophisticated malicious programs as well as attack techniques. In fact, this era not only elevated the rate of cybercrime but also its financial impact – leading to trillions in losses worldwide.  

Hacking timeline 2010s

In response, organizations across the world became serious about cybersecurity endeavors. This led to the hiring of more cybersecurity professionals and incorporating ethical hacking into their defense strategies to proactively identify and mitigate vulnerabilities. 

Learning from the Past 

The 2010s taught us the critical importance of staying ahead in cybersecurity practices. It underscores the need for continuous vigilance, regular updates to security protocols, and the adoption of proactive defense strategies to anticipate and mitigate threats.  

The lesson you should learn is the importance of smart investing in cybersecurity infrastructure and expertise to protect against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. 

Escalating Cyber Threats and Financial Turmoil

As the 2020s unfold, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented rise in sophisticated cyberattacks paralleled by a significant increase in financial losses and operational disruptions.

Hacking timeline 2020s

This era has already demonstrated the expanding impact of cyber threats on global economies and everyday life. A prime example is when a ransomware attack by a Russian hacking group forced the Colonial Pipeline offline.  

This attack not only disrupted 45% of the East Coast’s fuel supply, but led to a spike in gas prices, fuel shortages, and widespread hoarding. The impact of this attack vividly illustrates the tangible consequences of cyber threats on daily life.  

Today, we’re seeing the fast growth and adoption of AI. Advanced technology, like Multimodal Language Learning Models (MLLMs), will bring their own unique challenges.

Navigating the Future of Cybersecurity with Cybercrime History

We have a lot to learn from the history of cyber attacks. From the very first cyberattack to the events that take place tomorrow, it’s important that you heed these lessons to mitigate your risk.  

To mitigate risk in your small business as we progress through the remainder of this decade, we recommend that you: 

  • Invest in comprehensive cybersecurity measures. 
  • Stay informed, agile, and proactive. 
  • Prioritize resilience and recovery. 

Next up in the series, we’re going to dive deeper into how your small business can mitigate the risks that you face today and in the future. 


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