As technology advances and the world becomes increasingly interconnected, a new breed of digital mischief has emerged — cyber vandalism. In this insightful article, we explore the growing phenomenon of cyber vandalism, its various forms, the motivations behind it, and the strategies businesses can adopt to protect themselves from this modern-day digital nuisance.
Running a flourishing enterprise can unfortunately come with the consequence of being targeted by cyber criminals. This explains why the number of organizations impacted by cyber crime is rising, and it won't be long before every organization has experienced an issue due to the ever-growing prevalence of digital properties. No wonder business magnate Warren Buffett famously called cyber crime "the number one problem for humankind". One of the most malicious types of cybercrime that can have a devastating effect on a business of any size is vandalism.
Vandalism, a destructive and criminal act where property is defaced and destroyed, has been around as long as civilization itself. In the typical traditional sense, it typically entails things like broken windows, graffiti tags or political slogans on public buildings and monuments. But with the advent of digital technology, a new form of vandalism has emerged. It’s known as cyber vandalism, which transcends physical boundaries in a relatively anonymous way.
With over 10 years' experience in the IT industry and having worked with many diverse organizations, we have acquired a wealth of knowledge which affords us the opportunity to help you understand cyber vandalism better, so that you can guard against it.
Let's learn about this form of cyber crime and how to avoid it.
What is cyber vandalism?
Cyber vandalism is the deliberate, malicious destruction of digital property. It usually targets websites and other tech products, but it can also be used to threaten individuals or institutions. Cyber vandals use all sorts of tools to deface websites, delete files, take over user accounts, or send spam and viruses.
Whereas traditional vandalism commonly involved the vandal leaving his or her mark for everyone to see, cyber vandalism gives the perpetrator virtual anonymity by allowing them to commit their crimes from anywhere at any time with relative impunity.
A widely-known example of cyber vandalism that is often cited is in connection with the 2016 US presidential race when Wikipedia experienced digital malice. Malicious users removed the entire Wikipedia page of Republican contender Donald Trump. When it was put back, they replaced it with a single statement: «Let's be honest, no one cares about him.»
In some cases, the cyber vandals don't have any financial motivations. Their main goal is to inflict pain by disrupting services.
Types of cyber vandalism
Cyber vandalism can generally be classified into three general types: disruptive, destructive, and defamatory.
- Disruptive cyber vandalism: This type of cyber vandalism is designed to cause interruption or interference with the normal functioning of a cyber property e.g. a website.
- Destructive cyber vandalism: As the name suggests, this type of cyber vandalism is intended to cause damage or destruction to a property.
- Defamatory cyber vandalism: This type of cyber vandalism involves posting false or derogatory information about an individual or organization in an effort to damage their reputation.
While these are the three general types of cyber vandalism, there are also more specific subtypes that fall under each category. For example, under the category of disruptive cyber vandalism, you might find sub-types like denial-of-service attacks, web page defacements, and DNS cache poisoning. And under the category of destructive cyber vandalism, you might find sub-types like virus attacks, worm attacks, and Trojan horse attacks.
Common forms of cyber vandalism
As we just mentioned under the general categories of vandalism above, there are so many subtypes — some more common and some not so common but still dangerous. Let’s look at a couple:
1. Website defacement
Hackers maliciously change content and design of an existing website without its owner’s permission. It involves altering web pages to display upsetting, hateful or otherwise distressing messages, images, or videos that flow entirely against the owner’s wishes. Such modifications are typically achieved by exploiting weaknesses in the website's code.
Website defacement can happen to almost any content-providing platform, including government sites and corporate websites. Not only does it damage the credibility these institutions may have had among users, but also costs money in clean-up fees and vulnerability fixes. It is an ongoing issue since many attackers remain anonymous and unwittingly leave their tracks virtually untraceable.
2. DNS cache poisoning
DNS cache poisoning corrupts the Domain Name System (DNS) data stored in the DNS server’s cache. This vandalism allows threat actors to manipulate web traffic, as they can redirect users to malicious websites and illicit content. Often, DNS cache poisoning tricks users into visiting false but convincing websites that are specially created by hackers.
When executed correctly, this vandalism enables attackers to control which servers will respond to requests from an infected computer.
3. Software sabotage
This involves deliberately introducing bugs and viruses into programs to disrupt activity and can lead to everything from data loss to a complete wiping of the source code of a program.
Software sabotage can also involve the intentional distribution of infected or stolen software online which can then be unknowingly installed and used by unsuspecting individuals, leading to further exploitation and damage. Meanwhile the authentic distributor of the software loses deserved revenue.
4. Cyber squatting
Cyber squatting is an unethical practice whereby individuals register domains that directly reflect or closely resemble those of established companies, products, services and trademarks in a malicious attempt to gain financial benefit.
Cyber squatters capitalize on the established brand recognition of another company in their domain name by seeking to profit from it or by diverting visitors away to sites with opposing points of view. Because these practices are intended to disrupt the owner's rights while benefiting the offending party, they are considered a type of cyber vandalism.
It is a violation both ethically and potentially legally if companies choose to take action against squatters.
5. Account hijacking
This is the act of taking over someone else's account for malicious purposes such as to implant malware or post obscene content.
Account hijackers exploit weaknesses in computer systems, networks, and online security protocols for their own benefit, often leaving the victim with damaged reputation or financial losses. It is more common now than ever with increasingly sophisticated technology available at anyone's fingertips. Unfortunately, it can be incredibly challenging to track down the account hijacker since they usually remain undetected in servers outside of your jurisdiction.
This type of computer vandalism is particularly rampant in social media, where the numbers are at an all time high with an increase of 1000% in 2022. While most of the hijacking is initiated externally, some employees have been found to take bribes and assist the hackers to hijack users' accounts. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, reportedly fired some employees late 2022 because they received thousands of dollars in bribes to assist hijackers take over some accounts.
6. DDoS Attacks
A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is when a hacker overloads a server with requests, causing it to crash. This can take a website offline for a period of time.
This type of cyber vandalism assumes that in order for the hacker's demands to be met, or for their message to be heard, the website must remain offline for an extended period of time. DDoS attacks can cause outages lasting anywhere from a few hours to multiple days and cost companies millions in lost revenue--a real problem organizations face today.
The impact of cyber vandalism
The impact of cyber vandalism is far and wide, from reputational damage to financial losses. Here are the most common consequences of this cyber crime:
- Reputation: Your organization's reputation is one of the most valuable assets. It's what allows people to trust you and do business with you. But when that reputation is damaged by cyber vandalism, it can be difficult to rebuild it.
- Financial loss: Cyber vandalism can cost your organization a significant amount of money in terms of lost time, productivity, data breaches, and identity theft. In addition, cyber vandalism also inflicts additional costs incurred by having to use cybersecurity professionals to mitigate the damage caused by the vandalism and repair compromised systems and networks.
- Legal repercussions: Depending on the severity of the vandalization, your organization may be sued for things like defamation, copyright infringement, or trade secret theft.
- Psychological torture: Cyber vandalism can affect morale and motivation of employees, who must grapple with negative publicity. It can also cause psychological distress amongst employees due to feeling victimized or targeted.
How to avoid cyber vandalism
Take the following steps to safeguard your organization from cyber vandalism:
1. Implement strong password policies
Implement a strong password policy, where everyone is required to create strong passwords and make sure to change them on a regular basis. Easily guessed words like «password» or organization's name should be eliminated completely, and consider using a password manager to help you keep track of them all.
Try to create passwords that are at least 8 characters long and include a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible and make sure all passwords are changed every 3-6 months.
2. Train your employees
Carry out employee training in cybersecurity protocols such as not opening suspicious emails or clicking on unknown links. Teach them how to spot a potential attack and what they should do if they think their system or device has been compromised. You can provide this training in-person, or you can use online resources like webinars or e-learning modules.
Make sure that you communicate the importance of following cybersecurity protocols and. emphasize that they play a vital role in protecting the organization from cyberattacks. The training should be updated as new threats emerge.
3. Install firewalls and antivirus software
Use firewalls and antivirus software to detect infected files before they can cause any damage. It's just as important to regularly update them so they stay effective, as vandals are forever testing these defenses.
4. Perform regular data backups
Back up data periodically to ensure critical information can be recovered quickly if cyber vandals strike. Not only do backups take minutes to create, but they are also resilient against external threats, which makes them reliable even if vandals infiltrate your organization's systems.
Ultimately, having regular data backups in place gives you peace of mind that whatever the outcome of a cyber vandalism might be, your organization can rest assured all important information will remain safe and quickly accessible.
5. Apply software patches promptly
Cyber vandals are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities in software that they can exploit. So it's important that you apply patches as soon as they become available.
When a patch or security update is released, it's usually because a vulnerability has been discovered. Applying the patch or update fixes that vulnerability and makes it more difficult for vandals to gain access to your systems.
There are a few different ways you can go about applying patches and updates. You can do it manually, which requires someone to log into each system and apply the updates. This can often be time-consuming. You can also use a patch management system, which automates the process of applying patches and updates. This can save you a lot of time, but it's important to make sure that the system is configured correctly. Otherwise, you might end up with more vulnerabilities than you started with.
Further Reading: Patch management policy
6. Purchase cybersecurity insurance
In this day and age, it's a good idea to invest in cybersecurity insurance. This can help cover the costs of cyber vandalism, as well as any legal fees.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you're looking for a policy:
- Make sure the policy covers all the basics, like data breach protection, cyber extortion, software and hardware replacements, security audit costs, as well as legal advice in the event of a cyber vandalism.
- Don't skimp on coverage. The last thing you want is to be underinsured in the event of vandalism.
- Make sure the policy is from a reputable company. You want to make sure you're getting good value for your money.
- Shop around for comparison quotes from different insurers to ensure you’re getting the best rates and coverage
7. Secure devices against unauthorized access
One way to do this is by using biometrics, like fingerprint scanning or iris recognition. This way, only people who are supposed to have access to a device can actually use it.
Another way to secure devices is by using encryption, i.e. transforming readable data into an unreadable format. That way, even if someone does manage to get their hands on the data, they won't be able to make sense of it.
And of course, keeping devices up-to-date with the latest security patches is a must. This might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many people don't do it.
8. Partner with an experienced MSSP
A Managed Security Services Provider can provide you with the tools and expertise you need to shore up any weak points in your cybersecurity posture. They can also help you develop and implement a comprehensive network security policy. And if the worst does happen and your system is breached, an MSP can help you contain the damage and get your business back up and running as quickly as possible.
Although you may have to invest a bit more, partnering with an MSSP is a smart choice that will pay dividends in the end by helping you steer clear of the expensive implications of cyber vandalism.
Also Read: What is the difference between MSP and MSSP?
Signs your organization is being targeted for cyber vandalism
You might be wondering how to tell if your organization is being targeted for cyber vandalism.
Here are a 5 signs to look out for:
- You find unauthorized changes have been made to your website or social media accounts.
- Your website or email servers are down, and you can't find the cause.
- You're receiving strange or threatening emails, phone calls, or social media messages.
- You notice that important files or data have been deleted or corrupted.
- Employees are reporting that they're being harassed or bullied online.
As businesses are scrambling to enter the digital space and invest heavily in the growing digital ecosystem, cyber vandalism is becoming an increasingly common occurrence. The vandals are everywhere on the lookout for vulnerable networks to exploit, and you never know who's scheming to damage your organization's digital property. It might be someone with a grudge against your company or even a rival aiming to hamper your progress. Other times, it's just a simple act of vandalism for the thrill of it.
No matter the reason, make sure your security measures are always up and running. That way, any digital vandalism directed at your company should have little to no effect.
Cyber Vandalism FAQ
What is the most common type of cyber vandalism?
The most common type of cyber vandalism is DDoS attacks, which involve flooding a website with traffic until it crashes. This can be done for a number of reasons, such as political protests or simply to cause mischief.
Is cyber vandalism a crime?
In most cases, yes. Depending on the severity of the damage caused, cyber vandalism can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. In some cases, it may also be considered a terrorist act.
How can I protect my website from cyber vandalism?
The best way to shield your website from cyber vandalism is to implement an effective security system. This entails having intrusion detection systems and encryption protocols on the web servers to keep out any unwelcome visitors who may try to disrupt the website. Additionally, it is essential to have a reliable backup system in place for the website.