Cybercrime remains a critical concern for businesses, but it’s not always clear how to best defend against it. Too often, companies wait for something to happen and then scramble to repair the damage — reacting instead of preparing. By then, valuable resources have already been compromised.

Instead, to ensure continued growth and robust security, leaders need to adopt a long-term view and think proactively. Most importantly, they have to invest in defense based on the risk, as well as the technological options for detection and prevention.

The Cybercrime Threat Is Real — and Growing

The cost of cybercrime is slated to reach an astounding $6 trillion globally by 2021, according to a report by Cybersecurity Ventures. It seems that cybercrime’s sophistication and scope tend to grow right along with the technologies that enable it. Two such technologies are cryptocurrencies (e.g., Bitcoin) and anonymous browsers (e.g., Tor), which promote the continued expansion of cybercrime by protecting criminals’ identities. Consequently, they allow hackers to extort money without leaving any personally identifying information.

This is particularly worrisome given the massive recent increase in ransomware, in which cybercriminals demand payment or will lock users or companies out of their data or systems. In fact, according to the Cisco’s “2017 Annual Cybersecurity Report,” ransomware is growing 350 percent each year. And ransomware is certainly not just your Aunt Tilly being locked out of her outdated laptop for a $200 ransom — it’s a huge threat vector to businesses.

Yet it’s not as though companies that want to remain competitive have a choice about doing business on the internet. Fortunately, there are a number of basic tactics you can employ to reduce the threat of cybercrime and mitigate the damage that occurs.

1. Deceive the enemy.

One interesting strategy for heading off cybercrime is a concept called “cyber deception.” This is an approach in which decoys are used to lure cybercriminals toward an authentic-seeming, yet fake, set of assets, whether that’s data, credentials, or code.

Ideally, attackers won’t know which aspects of a business’s operations are real and which are fake. This not only thwarts their ability to maliciously exploit your assets, but it allows the company to trigger an alert because no authentic user would be interacting with the decoy assets.

For a company wanting to practice cyber deception, the first step is deception technology adoption based on organization needs. Traps can be embedded in a variety of environments, from private clouds to data centers, and can target legacy or modern software. After an attack takes place with decoy data, it’s critical to follow through with new protections and an extensive analysis of the attacker’s behavior to mitigate future harm.

2. Flip it and reverse it.

Mounting a strong cyberdefense requires understanding your vulnerabilities. The best way to accomplish that is through reverse engineering your systems. Dennis Turpitka, founder and CEO of software development company Apriorit, emphasizes this key point: “Many people tend to think that reverse engineering is used exclusively by hackers for the illegal acquisition of intellectual property, sensitive data, money, etc. Actually, reverse engineering can also wear a ‘white hat’ and turn out to be an indispensable tool for a cybersecurity specialist.”

Reverse engineering has the power to uncover system vulnerabilities that hackers hope to exploit. It can also find and neutralize malware and bring insight to the programmers seeking to patch security holes in key software components. And your cyberdefense team can make use of the same tools hackers use, such as Fiddler, a proxy that allows your “reverse engineers” to view data traffic between a computer and a remote server, or JavaSnoop, a tool for testing the security of Java applications.

3. Put AI on offense.

One of the most alarming threats to emerge is cybercriminals’ use of artificial intelligence to make their attacks smarter and more effective, an approach now called “adversarial AI.” By using tactics to fool machine learning, AI could learn and infiltrate security systems with repeated attempts faster than a company is able to defend against them, ultimately breaking through to vulnerable resources.

In order to safeguard against this, companies need to fight fire with fire, employing AI technology in their own cybercrime defense systems. These algorithms are designed to detect unusual behavior because they were developed with the goal of pattern recognition. For example, machine learning is being used to learn to recognize specific types of objects from photos, even grainy and indistinct ones. In a similar way, ML could learn what the typical pattern of interaction with one’s systems ought to be and automatically detect a hacking attempt before the hacker is able to compromise vital systems.

Cybercrime is not going away anytime soon — if ever — but companies can do a great deal to protect themselves from the privacy, revenue, and reputation risks it poses. Doing that successfully requires keeping up with the latest approaches to staying one step ahead of the cybercriminals.

Consider innovative tactics like cyber deception, reverse engineering, and offensive AI to make sure you’re bringing the full force of today’s technology to bear to protect your company. The potential costs are just too big to ignore.

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.