Profit-driven attacks have five phases: Reconnaissance to identify targets; Development to plan the attack and write malware; Extraction of the data; Exploitation by advertising and selling stolen information; and finally Laundering of the profits. Normally, there is a different person or team running each phase, often operating from different parts of the world, making it extremely difficult to track and trace. Each group takes a slice of the profits with the criminal ringleaders reaping the largest rewards - that can run into millions.
Typically, profit-driven attacks are targeted at high value organizations or individuals. Spear phishing is a common social-engineering technique used to seek out data such as bank details or access credentials from groups of customers or employees that can then be sold online. So called Whaling targets hand-picked individuals, such as wealthy billionaires and CEOs or those with privileged access rights like database administrators. The results of the last ISF Security Status Survey in 2007 showed a 50% increase in social engineering attacks in two years.
Cybercrime is the fastest growing type of crime and is considered by the US Treasury to have exceeded the profits of illicit drug sales. Credit card fraud alone was estimated at $3.6 billion last year but in addition, companies failing to put in place the correct security procedures are also subject to penalties from financial institutions including the SEC, FSA and EEA. Not to mention civil lawsuits and unforeseen costs to implement emergency procedures.