The inner workings of cybercrime

A new global study suggests that cyber criminals are increasingly begining to transition to becoming professional organisations with complex ecosystems and critical management principles, just like any other business. 

The Business of Hacking” report, published by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, addresses the underlying economy driving cybercrime, looking in-depth at the motivations behind the attacks adversaries choose to pursue, and the ‘value chain’ illegal organizations have established to expand their reach and maximize profits. Based on this insight, the report also provides actionable recommendations for enterprises to mitigate risk through disruption of these adversary groups.

The profile of typical cyber attackers—and the interconnected nature of their underground economy—have evolved dramatically in the last several years. Adversaries are increasingly leveraging sophisticated management principles in the creation and expansion of their operations to ultimately increase their impact and financial profits, which are both core motivations for nearly all attack groups today. Enterprises can use this inside knowledge against the attackers to disrupt the organizational structure and mitigate their risks.

“Organizations that think of cybersecurity as purely another checkbox to mark, often do not leverage the value in high fidelity cybersecurity intelligence,” said Andrzej Kawalec Head of HPE Security Research and Chief Technology Officer, HPE Security Services, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “This report gives us a unique perspective on how our adversaries operate and how we can disrupt them at each step of their criminal value chain.

The Attackers’  ‘Value Chain’

Today’s adversaries often create a formalized operating model and ‘value chain’ that is very similar to legitimate businesses in structure, and delivers greater ROI for the cybercriminal organization throughout the attack lifecycle. If enterprise-level security leaders, regulators and law enforcement are to disrupt the attackers’ organization, they must first understand every step in the value chain of this underground economy.

Critical elements to the attackers’ value chain models typically include:

Human Resources Management – includes recruiting, vetting and paying the supporting ‘staff’ needed to deliver on specific attack requirements; the skills-based training and education of attackers also falls within this category.

Operations – the ‘management team’ that ensures the smooth flow of information and funds throughout the attack lifecycle; this group will actively seek to reduce costs and maximize ROI at every step.

Technical Development – the front-line ‘workers’ providing the technical expertise required to perform any given attack, including research, vulnerability exploitation, automation, and more.

Marketing and Sales – these teams ensure that the attack group’s reputation in the underground marketplace is strong and the illicit products are both known and trusted among the target audience of potential buyers.

Outbound Logistics – this encompasses both the people and systems responsible for delivering purchased goods to a buyer, be it large batches of stolen credit card data, medical records, intellectual property or otherwise.

We recently spoke to Tim Grieveson, Chief Cyber & Security Strategist EMEA at Hewlett Packard Enterprise to find out more about the report. Listen below:

Disrupting the Chain and Advancing Enterprise Protection

An analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the business of hacking uncovers strengths that can be attacked and weaknesses that can be exploited.


HPE recommends a number of disruptive approaches for enterprise security professionals to better defend against these organized attackers:

Reduce the Profits – Limit the financial rewards adversaries can realize from an attack on the enterprise by implementing end-to-end encryption solutions, such as HPE SecureData. By encrypting data at rest, in motion and in use, the information is rendered useless to the attackers, restricting their ability to sell and reducing profits.

Reduce the Target Pool – The expansion of mobile and IoT has dramatically increased the possible attack surface for all enterprises. Organizations must build security into their development processes, and focus on protecting the interactions between data, apps and users regardless of device to better mitigate and disrupt adversary attacks.

Learn from the Adversaries – New technologies such as ‘deception grids’ provide methods of trapping, monitoring and learning from attackers as they navigate their way through a realistic duplication of the network. Enterprises can use this information to better protect their real network, disrupt similar attacks before they begin, and slow down the progress of attackers.

The “Business of Hacking” report identifies the possible attack categories available to adversaries and plots them in terms of effort, risk and potential payout, giving enterprises a solid guide to the most likely ‘business models’ they must defend against.

Download the full report