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Cybercrime is any computer-based activity that infringes upon security, privacy or copyright. Its global reach and speed enable criminal activities such as ransomware, theft of data and fraud to occur at unprecedented rates. The internet’s necessity, anonymity and lack of boundaries also make it easier for criminals to commit cyber-based variations on classic crimes such as stalking and bullying.

Cyberattacks are incredibly common and can cost companies and individuals millions of dollars in damages. For example, a data breach could result in lost customer trust and loss of business, while a disgruntled employee could launch an attack to damage the company’s reputation or extort money.

Increasingly, these attacks are coming from state-sponsored hackers. Whether it’s the North Koreans, Iranians or NSA-affiliated groups, world powers use hacker groups as one tool in a complicated matrix of global politics. Hacktivist groups, as well, can be a powerful tool for bringing down governments and corporate organizations.

Another key element of modern cybercrime is its reliance on social engineering and phishing techniques. Criminals obtain key data such as date of birth, address and phone number to impersonate people or gain access to their accounts and devices. They then extort money, threaten or spam with malware to obtain more sensitive information.

The criminals who engage in these activities can range from sophisticated hackers to those who are merely looking to cause chaos or simply “cash out.” Often, cybercriminals act as a collective industry and share expertise through the internet. This is facilitated by blogs and other sharing tools, which make it easy for beginners to pick up hacking skills from more experienced criminals.