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Security worker during monitoring. Video surveillance system.
Security worker during monitoring. Video surveillance system.

The Cybercriminal Isn’t Necessarily Who You Think…

Chances are, the “human data collector” is just someone who works for a company that makes money collecting data about you

Veteran software developer David A. Kruger offered some thoughts on computer security recently at Expensivity and we appreciate the opportunity to republish them here as a series. Yesterday’s discussion focused on ruining cybercriminals’ lives by making their businesses unprofitable. And now, let’s look at who the cybercriminal typically is… it’s more complicated than his iconic hoodie. And it’s way worse too.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

We have been taught to think of cyberattackers as being one of two kinds, criminal cyberattackers who gain control of others’ data to make money, or military/terroristic cyberattackers who gain control of others’ data to project military or political power. There is a third kind: Software makers who systematically destroy privacy, so they can gain control of as much “human data” as they possibly can.

Human data in this context is defined as the totality of all data about a specific person that can be gleaned from digital sources. This third kind of cyberattacker collects as much human data as possible because it is the “raw material” on which their business, in whole or large part, is based. We’ll call this third kind of cyberattacker “human data collectors” or HDCs for short.

HDCs include the world’s largest software makers—Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple—so-called “big tech”—followed by an enormous number of smaller players and a vast supporting ecosystem. HDCs are categorized as “cyberattackers of the third kind” because they are technologically, methodologically, motivationally, and morally identical to criminal and military/terroristic cyberattackers.

  1. Technologically, all three kinds of cyberattacker succeed by gaining control of others’ data.
  2. Methodologically, all three kinds of cyberattacker lie, inveigle, and deceive to gain control of others’ data.
  3. Motivationally, all three kinds of cyberattacker gain control of others’ data to make money, project power, or both.
  4. Morally, all three kinds of cyberattacker are indifferent to the harms they know they are causing.

Key Point: The technological goals, methods, motivations, and morals of all three kinds of cyberattacker are known operating conditions that policymakers must compensate for in the design of their policies.

Lie, Inveigle, Deceive

At any given moment, HDCs around the globe, especially “big tech” HDCs, are embroiled in hundreds of lawsuits brought by individuals and governments. They are accused of bad conduct that includes an astounding array of privacy violations, deceptive and unfair trade practices, price-fixing, anticompetitive behavior, violation of antitrust statutes, censorship, breach of contract, human resources violations, defamation of character, collusion, conspiracy, copyright infringement, patent infringement, and intellectual property theft. Collectively, HDCs have paid out billions of dollars in fines, penalties, settlements, judgments, and punitive damages. You would be hard pressed to find anyone knowledgeable of HDCs’ practices, other than their attorneys and publicists, who would assert they are of high integrity and are trustworthy.

The primary difference is that criminal and military/terroristic cyberattackers are outlaws, whereas HDCs operate as if they are above the law. HDCs will strenuously object to being characterized as cyberattackers, but if it looks like a duck, walks like duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck . . .

Next: So why do Big Tech firms put up with this?

Here are all thirteen segments in the series:

The true cause of cybersecurity failure and how to fix it Hint: The cause and fix are not what you think. David A. Kruger, a member of the Forbes Technology Council, says it’s getting worse: We’re in a hole so stop digging! Get back to root cause analysis.

What’s wrong with cybersecurity technology? Know your enemy: The target isn’t networks, computers, or users; they are pathways to the target —gaining control of data. The challenge: If a cyberdefender scores 1,000,000 and a cyberattacker scores 1, the cyberattacker wins, David Kruger points out.

Ingredients that cybersecurity needs to actually work Software makers continue to produce open data as if we were still living in the 50s, and the Internet had never been invented. Forbes Council’s David Kruger says, the goal should be safety (preventing harm) rather than, as so often now, security (reacting to hacks with new defenses).

Cybersecurity: Put a lid on the risks. We already own the lid. Security specialist David Kruger says, data must be contained when it is in storage and transit and controlled when it is in use. Cyberattackers are not the problem; sloppy methods are. We must solve the problem we created one piece of data or software at a time.

The sweet science of agile software development Effective security, as opposed to partial security, increases costs in the short run but decreases them in the long run. Software veteran: Getting makers to change their priorities to safer products safe rather than the next cool new feature will by no means be easy.

Computer safety expert: Start helping ruin cybercriminals’ lives. Okay, their businesses. Unfortunately, part of the problem is the design of programs, written with the best of intentions… First, we must confront the fact that software makers are not often held responsible for the built-in flaws of their systems.

The cybercriminal isn’t necessarily who you think… Chances are, the “human data collector” is just someone who works for a company that makes money collecting data about you. Did you know that his bosses have paid gazillions in fines for what he and his fellows do? Let’s learn more about what they are up to.

Sometimes, money really is the explanation. Today’s internet is a concentration of power, in terms of information, never before seen in history. The HDCs (human data collectors) treat us as guinea pigs in a thoroughly unethical experiment designed to learn how to manipulate the user most effectively.

How search engine results can be distorted Search providers such as Google are able to increase their ad revenues by distorting the search results delivered to users. Human data collectors (HDCs) have been able to evade responsibility for the preventable harms they cause by blame shifting and transferring risk to users.

How online human data collectors get free from responsibility Cybersecurity expert David A. Kruger talks about the Brave Old World in which you have much less power than Big Tech does. For Big Tech, government fines and other censures are merely a cost of doing business, which makes reform difficult at best.

Cybersecurity: Why a poke in the eye does not work. The current system punishes small businesses for data breaches they could not have prevented. Computer security expert David Kruger says the current system makes as much sense as fining the hit and run victim for not jumping out of the way.

Is your data about yourself too complex for you to manage? That’s the argument human data collectors (HDCs) make for why they should be allowed to collect and own your data. Policymakers should declare that human data is the property of the individual, not of the data collector, computer security expert David Kruger argues.


How software makers will push back against reforms Software makers will grumble but insurers may force their hand. That, however, is NOT the Big Battle… the Big Battle: Wall Street will oppose reforms that restore control to you because the market cap of Big Tech depends on human data collection.

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The Cybercriminal Isn’t Necessarily Who You Think…