Scammers are using so-called 'spray and pray' techniques in a bid to get cash or data from victims, a cybersecurity expert has said.
The past year has seen a very sharp increase in reports of scam calls and messages in Ireland, with some estimates suggesting the level of scams has increased as much as four-fold.
These scams include the likes of text messages falsely claiming to be from delivery organisations, and phone calls made with 'spoofing' software to make it appear they're coming from a legitimate Irish mobile number.
At the upper end of seriousness, some scammers may engage in extortion and blackmailing by using hacked data procured on the dark web or black market.
Paul C Dwyer, CEO of Cyber Risk International, spoke to The Pat Kenny Show about the recent increase in scams.
He explained: “There’s a couple of factors involved - one of them is the fact is that our data is leaking out everywhere.
“The large-scale data breaches - such as the HSE cyberattack - mean that kind of data is now for sale to many different criminal groups all over the world."
Paul said scammers are typically after one of two things - money or data.
He explained: “Data is the new cash. If they’ve taken your money, you notice the money’s gone. If they take your data, they can sell it multiple times.
"Entry-level scammers… they employ techniques we often called spray and pray: spraying out millions of text messages and emails, and praying some [people] are going to click on them and engage.
“Then they try to get you to do something - to dial one, or click on a link. Then they have you: you’ve either dialled a premium rate number and they’ve got some money, or they’ve got you to install something - a piece of malware.”
In a worst-case scenario, a piece of malware could give hackers full control of your device - meaning they could turn on your camera or access your photos or documents.
What can be done?
Paul said particularly effective scams often employ some “social engineering” - i.e. giving a particular detail (such as a password obtained through a data breach) to make it seem more convincing or threatening.
He explained that it's increasingly easy for low-level criminals to get involved with cybercrime, due to the rapid changes in technology.
However, there are also organised criminal groups - with cybercrime even surpassing drug trafficking as the most profitable enterprise for some crime gangs.
What can someone do about all this?
Paul said there's not one particular piece of advice - although said it boils down to education, engineering and enforcement.
Education is all about making everyone more aware of the techniques scammers are employing.
Engineering, meanwhile, means telecom companies and others putting in place the technical solutions available to try to crack down on the level of scams making it through.
Paul added: “There’s also enforcement: gardaí are doing great work in this area… but they need people to report his.
"We shouldn’t get tired of reporting these things: the more information and intel the gardaí have, the more resources they can get to deal with this.”