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In our first blog, we outlined a number of specific factors that can be used to determine a dataset’s desirability, from the perspective of a malicious cyber actor. This second blog looks at the specific ways that threat actors are using this data – referred to as industrialization – and how these factors of desirability undercut their decision-making.
We have defined industrialization as the growing sophistication of criminal business models, characterized by the automation and replication of previously manual processes. This can be achieved by either increasing role specialization (e.g. malware-as-a-service offerings), or by using new technology.
We identified seven key examples of how breached data can currently be industrialized, based on incidents we have detected in the past 24 months:
Below is a diagram showing the flow of stolen data through the seven industrialized ‘services’ listed above and then onwards to other malicious activities:
Figure 1: The multiple potential uses of one breached dataset
Notably, the graphic above highlights how stolen data that has been used for spear-phishing or in the creation of a botnet can be used to accrue even more data through data-stealing ransomware and banking trojans. This reuse of data creates a “virtuous circle” for the malicious actor where an initial investment in breached data in turn creates a growing pool of stolen information that can be put to a variety of uses.
Looking forward, it not be a stretch to argue that a threat actor could aggregate multiple datasets to build an extensive profile of an individual. Data akin to that exposed in the 2015 Office of Personnel Management breach would reveal an individual’s health, criminal, mental and political background, as well as biometric data such as fingerprints. Ashley Madison data would provide a person’s sexual orientation and behavior, while exposed payment information in other breaches could give the threat actor an understanding of an individual’s financial situation. All this information would provide a threat actor with ample material to exert pressure on that individual – such as for extortion or in the recruitment of a human source.
By taking the perspective of an attacker, we can better understand the risks and threats faced by our clients. This guides our approach towards public data breach incidents, where our analysts consider how attractive and useful a given dataset could be for a malicious actor in order to produce more structured and considered assessments of their severity.