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Cybersecurity researchers face real-life threats

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Cybersecurity researchers work hard to keep the digital world safe, but every once in a while their own physical security is at risk. Anyone who has been in this field long enough has stumbled upon stories of infosec professionals receiving threats or has experienced incidents themselves.

A security expert who wanted to remain anonymous to protect his family says that “several people focusing on cybercrime have received death threats” in the past few years, and some of them even decided to fly under the radar or move to do other things. They don’t want to put their loved ones at risk “because dad is a security researcher and attracts bad guys,” he says.

On infosec Twitter and at conferences, researchers share incidents and talk about ways of protecting themselves in these situations. They say calling the police or the FBI hardly helps. “I want to tell you to go contact federal law enforcement, I want to tell you to go contact a local police department, but from what I’ve seen, it does nothing,” says security expert Matt Smith of Citadel Lock Tools. “It can take months to get an arrest in for a single incident, let alone that person being at large for a rather long time.”

While a few researchers wear these threats as a badge of honor, most of them do everything in their power to stay safe. They minimize their digital footprint, run background checks on every unknown person who approaches them through social media, use post office boxes instead of addresses, and refrain from posting anything online that might link them to their families. 

With the recent rise in ransomware and the escalation of geopolitical tensions between Russia, China, North Korea and NATO, the job of at least some infosec professionals tends to become dangerous. “I don’t know if it’s gotten worse, but I can say it has not gotten better at all,” says Ronnie Tokazowski, principal threat advisor at Cofense.

Increasing threat to researchers from ransomware groups

Cybercriminal groups are having a terrific year so far. The number of ransomware attacks is at an all-time high, and the average payment has exceeded $900,000. Moreover, the timid cooperation between the U.S. and Russia to curb the phenomenon appears to have stopped after Russia invaded Ukraine and the West responded with sanctions. A few weeks ago, the case against alleged members of the REvil hacker group “reached a dead end,” according to Russian newspaper Kommersant.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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