What Is Organized Cyber Crime?

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Cyber security experts review code.Cyber crime is so popular (and potentially profitable) that well-organized networks of cyber criminals work in collaboration to pull off massive heists over the internet. These cyber crime organizations are groups of hackers, programmers and other tech bandits who combine their skills and resources to commit major crimes that might not otherwise be possible.

Organized cyber crime groups may be small or large, loosely affiliated or well-defined; some groups are almost corporate in nature, with established leadership and various members filling specific functional roles.

In the days of Al Capone’s mafia, Eliot Ness’s band of untouchable law enforcement officers brought organized crime to justice. In the internet age, well-trained security experts with a master’s degree in cyber security can help capture (and defend against) organized cyber crime syndicates.

Organized Cyber Crime Examples

According to a report in Bank Info Security, cyber crime organizations continue to adapt, finding new ways to exploit personal user data or sensitive business files. Just over the past year, there has been a significant spike in cyber crime, which many experts attribute to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many scammers and fraudsters have taken advantage of the highly fluid uncertain nature of the pandemic, along with the public’s desire for information, by sending out fake COVID-19 updates, often with malware attached. Many of these attacks have emanated from cyber crime organizations.

The year 2020 also saw a number of organized cyber crimes unrelated to the pandemic. For example, the cellphone carrier T-Mobile announced that many of its users’ personal information had been breached due to coordinated phishing and phone scams. Another significant cyber crime occurred in May, when health insurance company Magellan announced that a syndicate of hackers had stolen hundreds of thousands of patient logins, along with personal financial information. These are just a few of the many cyber crime examples.

Types of Organized Cyber Crime

Just like in traditional organized crime, cyber criminals tend to associate with criminal leaders who have the ideas, influence and contacts to pull off complex, far-reaching scams and hacks.

Cyber crime bosses like these are only becoming more proficient in their illegal activities. This is affirmed by tech writer Steve Ranger in his ZDnet.com article, “Cybercrime and Cyberwar: A Spotter’s Guide to the Groups That Are Out to Get You.”

Exactly what is organized cyber crime’s threat to governments, banks and other large corporations? A good place to start is with the various types of cyber criminal organizations and their exploitation techniques, as identified by Ranger. These include:

  • Hacktivists: Some groups of cyber criminals are driven by a particular political or social agenda. “Hacktivists” tend to be more interested in embarrassing companies or publicizing damning evidence of some sort and are usually not interested in robbing their targets of money or assets.
  • Terrorists: The threat of terrorism increased significantly in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Thankfully, most terror organizations lack the technical savvy and resources to pull off major cyber attacks. In fact, according to The International Cyber Terrorism Regulation Project, terrorist cyber crime tends to involve mostly the publication of propaganda, psychological campaigns (such as beheading videos), intelligence, information sharing and other communication.
  • State-backed hackers: Espionage continues to be prevalent in the modern world. Recent history is replete with examples of alleged state-backed hacking campaigns. The Stuxnet worm hack of the 2000s was allegedly developed by the U.S. and its allies to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. China has been accused of digital espionage involving U.S. industrial secrets. In 2020, hackers allegedly backed by the Russian government accessed U.S. government and corporate networks by exploiting software made by SolarWinds.
  • Insider threats: Criminal organizations can also target insiders with blackmail. The goal is to obtain corporate secrets, sensitive data, passwords and other types of access to secure networks that could result in the theft of money or information.
  • Blurred lines: As with most things, the real world is rarely neatly divided into precise categories. Many organized cyber crime groups participate in hacking “all of the above.” A terrorist organization, for example, could employ tech-savvy individuals to recruit new members, run hacktivism campaigns and deploy a phishing campaign or ransomware attack to obtain sensitive cyber security information and finance terror operations.

Opportunism still reigns supreme in the world of cyber crime. Ransomware, for example, is a well-known hack delivered via Trojan horse malware. In this technique, victims are locked out of their own computers until they pay a ransom in cryptocurrency.

And, of course, traditional crime organizations have found high-tech ways to traffic their age-old products and services.

The internet provides anonymity, and anonymity breeds vice, says Maxwell D. Marker, FBI Transnational Organized Crime section chief, in a Police Chief Magazine article, “Organized Crime Has Gone High Tech.” As a result, drug cartels, illegal gambling services, extortionists and prostitution rings sell their wares online and on deep web forums, and launder money through digital means.

Cyber Crime Prevention

The continued proliferation of organized cyber crime points to a significant need for cyber crime prevention and deterrence. Cyber security professionals can play a significant role here.

For example, penetration testers conduct rigorous tests of computer networks and digital assets, helping businesses and other organizations identify potential vulnerabilities and put the optimal cyber security measures into place.

Meanwhile, security analysts monitor and prevent the theft of private data, often by creating and implementing cyber security protocols such as firewalls.

Businesses and other organizations can benefit from cyber security professionals who help them continually assess their own security measures, spot possible breaches and develop new ways of safeguarding mission-critical information. In addition, cyber crime specialists can help educate employees, keeping them up to date on the latest hacker avoidance methods and safe internet practices.

Learn More About Cyber Security Careers

Choosing the proper online cyber security master’s program is a decision that should not be taken lightly. The best programs will offer courses that keep current with today’s cyber security issues and concerns.

The online Master of Science in Cyber Security (MSCS) program at the University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. It has also been ranked among the Top Public Schools and Best National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.

The MSCS program prepares students for careers in cyber security with concentrations in Autonomous Systems Cyber Security, Cyber Security and Behavior, Data Security and General Cyber Security.

For more information on the University of North Dakota’s MSCS online program, visit the program’s website today.

Recommended Readings

10 Cyber Security Trends to Look for in 2021

What Is Vulnerability Analysis? Exploring an Important Cyber Security Concept

5 Powerful Cryptography Tools for Cyber Security Professionals


Bank Info Security, “Cybercrime: 12 Top Tactics and Trends”

Bloomberg, “The State-Sponsored Hackers Are Winning”

The Hacker News, “Top Cyber Crimes of 2020”

The International Cyber Terrorism Regulation Project, “Terrorist Use of the Internet”

Investopedia, Willie Sutton Rule

Kaspersky, “Tips on How to Protect Yourself Against Cybercrime”

Police Chief Magazine, “Organized Crime Has Gone High Tech”

ScienceDaily, “Organized Cybercrime — Not Your Average Mafia”

TechTarget, “10 of the Biggest Cyber Attacks of 2020”

Turn-Key Technologies, “How Organized Cybercrime Works”

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, E4J University Module Series: Cybercrime

ZDNet, “Cybercrime and Cyberwar: A Spotter’s Guide to the Groups that are Out to Get You”