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What You Can Learn from the Ridiculous Money That Cybercriminals Make

Statistics abound regarding the cost businesses bear due to attacks and breaches, but arguably just as important is to quantify exactly how much criminals are banking as a result of their increasingly common trade.

The 2015 Trustwave Global Security Report, released on Tuesday, did just that. It documented that attackers launching a malware infection campaign could expect to earn a breathtaking 1,425% return on investment (ROI) - or $84,000 in revenue - over 30 days.

Given that finding, any doubt whether the cybercrime trade isn't one of the most flourishing and lucrative rackets going should now be erased. And perhaps calling it a racket fails to allot enough credit to the professionalism and orchestration of these heists, as well as the thriving nature of the criminal subterranean.

To calculate the average ROI that can be obtained by the manager of an infection campaign, our researchers accounted for four primary attack ingredients widely available for sale in underground web forums - and then what their cost would be to purchase and use over a month.

These comprised:

1. The Payload (such as ransomware or a trojan),

2. The Infection vector (typically automated emails that lead to an exploit kit),

3. The Stolen Web Traffic (visitors to compromised websites redirected to the exploit kit) and

4. The Encryption Functionality (to hide the payload from anti-virus detection).

Trustwave researchers then tabulated what criminals should expect to gain by fleecing their victims, based on market estimates.

Finally, researchers tallied the damage to derive an estimated ROI that the campaign's owner could be expected to take home over a 30-day period.

The summary above certainly doesn't do the calculation exercise justice, and we encourage you to read the full section detailing this research in the 2015 Trustwave Global Security Report - it's worth your time!

While the ROI gained is impressive, the primary purpose of this research is to encourage businesses to fully recognize just how much money drives this type of duplicity. As such, when attempting to deter financially motivated attackers from infiltrating one's organization, IT professionals must approach the challenge from a business perspective.

These types of adversaries are trying to collect the best possible ROI they can. This doesn't mean just cashing out once they've attacked, but being cost efficient from the very beginning. If they believe they are encountering a more rigid path of resistance from start to finish - meaning your efforts are attempting to chop away at their ROI - they may consider the effort not worth it.

A theme that the 2015 Trustwave Global Security Report attempted to convey is to think like an attacker. In much the same way businesses make decisions of how to grow their revenue (Which sales and marketing campaigns should we invest in? Which research and development should we conduct?), security requires a similar thought process.

Put another way: If you're asking yourself how to make it more difficult for your competitors to steal your customers, you also should be asking yourself how to make it more difficult for attackers to steal your data.

As an industry-leading Managed Security Services Provider, Trustwave can help you manage threats and vulnerabilities - as well as compensate for skills and resource challenges you may be facing - through services like Managed Security Testing.

Dan Kaplan is manager of online content at Trustwave and a former IT security reporter and editor.