The High-Tech Gangsters of Organized Cyber Crime

Cyber criminals are banding together to share their areas of expertise and steal from and/or wreak havoc upon as many people and organizations as they can, either without regard for their victims or to intentionally inflict the maximum amount of damage possible. In a recent example, Microsoft uncovered a massive criminal organization providing what security researchers called “phishing as a service” (PHaaS) to its criminal clientele. Many groups like this one are operating openly, advertising their services online and offering incentives such as free stolen credit card or PII data to convince others to join their ranks or subscribe to their services. Their use of wire transfers and cryptocurrencies as their preferred method of payment makes it difficult to track them down. And, because many of those running these crime syndicates operate from foreign countries that may or may not be willing to cooperate with U.S. officials, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to bring them to justice if they are found.

Some examples

In the aforementioned PHaaS example, the criminal organization provides malicious website hosting services, creates and sends phishing emails, provides tutorials on how to use the available resources, and offers multiple email templates to choose from.  They make it easy for their clients to run massive phishing campaigns.

In May of 2021, a major health insurance provider announced that a hacking syndicate had stolen hundreds of thousands of patient records that included their login credentials, sensitive personal data, and financial account information. Health care providers have made the list of favorite targets of these groups.

The ongoing pandemic and labor shortage have interrupted the supply chains in several industries and some organized cyber crime operations are doing what they can to exacerbate the problem. For example, farming operations and the food supply chain have become increasingly dependent on technology. As a result, cyber attacks against them have increased dramatically. By compromising automated agricultural systems such as those that analyze soil and apply chemicals and fertilizers, criminals can destroy crops or cause potentially dangerous levels of pesticides to be applied.

Customer Case Study: Learn how Difenda Shield MDR for OT helped our customer increase visibility and unify protection of business critical production systems.

Who are these people?

Some claim to be “hactivists” and assert that they are engaging in their illicit activities for the greater good. They do what they do to make the world a better place by forcing others to conform to their societal or political agendas. “Anonymous” is one of the better known hactivist organizations. Because these criminal enterprises aren’t in it for the money, their attacks usually involve disrupting their targets’ operations or bringing to light some negative information about them.

Many of these crime syndicates are only concerned with generating big profits regardless of any negative consequences that may result from their actions. During the first half of 2021, companies paid, on average, $1.85 million to recover from a successful ransomware attack. In some of the worst attacks making the news in 2021, including one targeting an agricultural cooperative, organizations paid ransoms in excess of $10 million. Cyber crime syndicates are now identifying company insiders and offering them six, perhaps even seven-figure payoffs for installing ransomware packages on their employers’ systems, thereby making it easier to pull off a successful attack.

Some of these criminal organizations are state-sponsored or are affiliated with terrorist groups seeking to do damage to critical infrastructure. Health care organizations, agricultural entities, supply chains, and government agencies are often targeted by these syndicates.

What can be done?

Many of these attacks rely on social engineering tactics, primarily phishing, to achieve success. Since technical controls cannot block every malicious email, nor can they stop bad actors from taking advantage of human vulnerabilities and tendencies, an effective cybersecurity training program is essential. Organizations must involve their employees in interactive and continuous training to teach them to recognize phishing messages and other threats. The program should be regularly evaluated and continuously improved.

Since insiders are being enlisted to help perpetrate attacks against their employers and being promised large financial payoffs in return, employers should train managers and HR personnel to identify disgruntled employees in their ranks and address any issues they are having.  Additionally, companies may also wish to offer counseling and assistance to employees who are having financial issues as they might be tempted by an attacker’s offer,

Companies often publish too much information on their public websites, including names, job titles, and direct contact information of key employees.  Sometimes sites reveal information about a company’s vendors or customers. Information like this is valuable to criminals gathering the data necessary to perpetrate social engineering attacks.  Avoid oversharing on company sites and social media.

A system of technical controls should be deployed in accordance with current best practices and should comply with any and all applicable regulatory or industry standards. Role-based access control (RBAC) or perhaps even a zero-trust model should be implemented to ensure employees only have access to resources they require to perform their duties. Special consideration should be given to ensuring that remote employees are working securely.

Backup systems that encrypt and store critical data in an air-gapped storage location can help an organization to rapidly recover from a successful ransomware attack and other attacks that involve destruction of, or denial of access to, essential data.

If an organization is not in a position to develop and implement its own comprehensive cybersecurity training program or needs help with evaluating and deploying technical security controls and access policies, third-party providers of training and Sec-Ops-As-A-Service, suchas Difenda are available to meet those needs.

In closing…

This problem is not going away. These criminal organizations pose a real and growing threat to governmental entities including law enforcement and other first responder agencies. Banks and other financial institutions, the health care industry, agricultural organizations, and the supply chain in general are at risk as well, as are any other targets they may choose to attack. The recommendations included herein are general. Every organization should tailor its cybersecurity infrastructure and training programs to fit its specific needs. There are quality third-party providers of security training and Sec-Ops-As-A-Service readily available to help if assistance is needed.

Book a Demo of Difenda Shield today to learn how you can detect threats earlier and faster than ever before and protect your people, processes and technology.

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Megan Miller

Megan Miller’s energy and passion for learning flow into all aspects of her work. As the Growth Manager, North America, she brings a background in sciences which she has transitioned to the tech sector in her role at Difenda.

With a Bachelors of Science in Geology, Megan is a lifelong learner who is voracious about learning anything she can get her hands on about cybersecurity. Her positive energy has built a sales strategy with a focus on expanding in the United States while nurturing the Canadian presence. She is responsible for recruiting and training the sales team. Together with the company’s leadership, she creates the sales process and the company’s product strategy in order to better serve the customer base. This ensures that our customers have a highly trained and highly motivated team to help them every step of the way, Megan has completed Microsoft SC-900 training and working towards mastering Microsoft.

Whether at work or play, Megan is fully committed. She took her love of hockey all the way to the semi-professional level as a competitive hockey player. Megan loves all things sports including water skiing, scuba diving, cycling, and snowboarding. She also enjoys time with family and reading about alternative energy, innovation, and cybersecurity.

Natasha Phanor

As the Customer Success Manager at Difenda, Natasha Phanor is the voice of the customer, responsible for driving satisfaction, retention, and growth among our valued clients. With six years in the industry, she offers a fresh, energetic approach, and the ability to focus on a customer’s needs throughout the entire process. Natasha has the innate ability to foresee customer needs and solve problems before they arise, which creates a smooth road for each customer she encounters.

As the recipient of the Outstanding Services Partner of the Year Award in 2018, it is clear that Natasha responds quickly to customer needs, creates a platform for understanding a customer’s business requirements, and walks them through the process to ensure their complete satisfaction.

In her spare time, Natasha is as energetic and passionate as she is on the job. A self-proclaimed foodie-extraordinaire, she enjoys dinner parties, traveling, downhill skiing, hiking, biking, and reading. Natasha has a Bachelor of Fine Arts, specializing in Dance, from Ryerson University.

Ian Miersch

Ian Miersch has energy to spare, and uses his eclectic background to make a positive mark on the cybersecurity industry. As Vice President of Finance & Human Resources, Ian Miersch is responsible for overseeing scalable business growth as Difenda expands throughout North America. But it is the way he does it that sets him apart. By leveraging his engineering background and critical thinking skills, he has been able to develop unique strategies that balance the company’s current business needs with its long-term growth plans. And the results of his unique background and drive mean that the company is growing in a fiscally responsible manner, all with the customer’s needs at the forefront.

With a Bachelor’s of Mechanical Engineering, coupled with an MBA in Finance, both from McMaster University, Ian’s ability to analyze data and make informed decisions is augmented by his ability to understand all facets of the business. He has a holistic understanding of the craft, from operations to project delivery and management, to his niche in financial planning. Ian’s ten years of experience in the industry mean that he has seen it all, and knows how to create a dynamic team and manage the resources needed for success.

Outside of work, he uses his energy to help others through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program, earning the Group Recreation Volunteer of the Year Status.

Ian also enjoys exploring and hiking with his three young children, exercising (so he can keep up with them), and reading professional development books. He is an avid but generally heartbroken fan of the Toronto sports teams, including the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, and Raptors.

Derek Nugent

Derek Nugent, vice-president of sales and marketing, lives by the motto “Be early, be better.” Derek leads our Sales and Marketing team and is responsible for customer success, as well as pre-sales and sales enablement. His high energy level and creativity have built high performing teams, whether at the Herjavec Group, CDW, or in his current leadership role at Difenda.

After earning a Bachelor Administration and Management degree from the Academy of Learning, Derek started in the information technology industry in 2004 and transitioned to the cybersecurity industry in 2014. With so much experience in a wide-variety of roles, he is poised to take the team at Difenda to the next level.

He excels at leading revenue strategies, new market entry, partnership engagement, and customer acquisition and retention. His work ethic and interest in rising to the top motivate his sales teams, who respond well to his passion and zeal. Under his tutelage, they are able to achieve attractive lead generation, YOY growth, and sizable deals. Derek works tirelessly to build a better team, and his constituents follow his road to success, which ultimately leads to a rewarding experience for the customer.

Even when volunteering, Derek is all in. He was a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters from 2005-2015, earning Group Recreation Volunteer of the Year Status.

And when he isn’t busy leading the team to the acme of sales, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two kids, running, working out, watching thrillers, action and dramatic television shows

Manoj Arora

Manoj Arora, Difenda’s Founder and CEO has always been ahead of the curve in Technology and Cyber Security. After securing his engineering degree in Computer Science, he wrote his first mobile banking application when he was just 23 years old. This accomplishment certainly set him apart from the crowd and prepared him for a lifetime of innovation and success in his field. At just 25 years old, he was selected as the youngest Cyber Security Officer for one of the largest banks in Asia.

As a globetrotting young cyber security professional, Manoj was instrumental in designing cyber security infrastructure and controls for some of the largest institutions around the world. Depth of his expertise and passion to serve customers at the highest level of competence and integrity lead to Difenda. Founded in 2008, Difenda is a rapidly growing cybersecurity firm operating in North America and Asia.

As the CEO at Difenda, Manoj drives the strategic vision to protect our customers and enable our team members to deliver our services in line with core values- competence, integrity, and innovation. Currently one of Microsoft’s leading North American partners, Difenda reflects Manoj’ single-minded focus on our customers. Difenda is fully vested in success of its customers and takes pride in considering our success as a byproduct of our customers. Manoj has always been committed to building a great team and forging strong partnerships to serve our customers with standards that top our industry.

When he is not busy bringing cybersecurity to the world, Manoj enjoys playing golf and squash, and continues to travel the world.

Lisa Templeton

Lisa Templeton is the perfect combination of human empathy and technological prowess. In her role as People Services Manager, she takes care of our team members to support them in their daily work, as well as on their personal life paths. Happy employees make for happy customers, and Lisa excels in giving our employees the tools they need for success in order to become the best possible versions of themselves. Along with employee formation, she shines in the service delivery support domain to continuously improve the process. Her 24 years of experience in IT Operations and Service Management help her create quality and efficiency at Difenda.

Having attended the Information Systems Management certificate program at Ryerson University, and with various other certifications to her credit, Lisa is perceptive and innovative when it comes to information technology, but also sensitive to the needs of her human constituents. Responsible for achieving the first privately owned company HDI Support Center certification in Canada, she has also designed and implemented Service Management excellence programs and 24×7 IT Operations departments for multiple IT organizations, and has created corporate rewards and recognition programs to keep her employees engaged and motivated.

On the personal side, Lisa passionately supports the cause of breast cancer research, having lost her mother to the disease. She reads voraciously in her spare time, and enjoys the art of home renovation. The summer months also bring time on her boat and exploring new hiking trails.

Miranda McCurdy

Miranda McCurdy uses her myriad super powers in all aspects of her job and personal life. As the Marketing Director at Difenda, Miranda McCurdy brings over a decade of experience to the table, which includes expertise in all facets of operations, brand management, and content marketing, as well as a multitude of successful strategies for the ever-expanding digital world. She is an expert at simplifying the message the company is trying to send, filling in gaps in the information, and strengthening the content in order to create compelling narratives that strengthen the brand and developing programs that bring teams together.

With several Addy Awards issued by the American Advertising Federation Cleveland to her credit, and her never say die attitude, Miranda understands both the broader picture and the minute details that are needed to successfully market a product. With her abilities to harness both the talent needed to spread the message, as well as to create the message itself, she is an integral cog in the company’s ability to communicate with customers and other stakeholders.

When she is not building a brand, she shares her ability to fill the gaps in her community by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, the Special Olympics, and the Charleston Food Bank. In her spare time, Miranda spends time with her family, enjoys fitness and health, paddle boarding, reading, and arts and crafts.

Juliana Zaremba

Connections are the name of the game for Juliana Zaremba. As Strategic Partnerships Director, she is responsible for Difenda’s channel partnerships and the development and ownership of the channel partner program. She is also responsible for the global Microsoft Partnership, including the creation of strategic plans with MSFT contacts that will facilitate the continued growth of the business and establish certification and training protocols in all security technologies. Her role is multifaceted, as she acquires partners, manages relationships with them, and develops strategies that will provide cutting edge security solutions to our customer base. Another integral aspect of her job is to facilitate growth.

With a Bachelor’s in Math from the University of Waterloo and 14 years of experience from her previous roles at Herjavec Group and CDW, her cutting edge focus and ability to develop long-lasting relationships and strategies provides world class security solutions to our customer base.

Juliana thrives on connections outside of work as well. She is a philanthropist and contributor with Women4Change based in Hamilton. This group of local women is passionate about supporting local causes, and she focuses her efforts around Women in STEM. She is also a member of Club Italia in Niagara Falls and supports their youth events throughout the year.

When not managing the Microsoft Global partnership, Juliana enjoys reading, often reading several books at once. Juliana enjoys exploring the Niagara Escarpment with her family, as well as sharing meals and experiences with her extended family. Juliana’s competitive nature has her always trying new things, like Whoop band challenges and Peloton.

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