Cyber-crime strides in lockstep with security

Information Security made great strides last year.

Sadly, so did cyber-crime.

In the U.S. – according to a recent FBI study – almost 90 per cent of firms experienced computer attacks last year despite the use of security software.

So what happened in 2005?

In a year when rootkits went mainstream and malware went criminal, information security improved.

There was no global pandemic like the Slammer or Blaster worm juggernaut. There was no malware with a replication magnitude of the order of Code Red, Slammer, Nimda, or the Iloveyou virus. With the notable exception of PHP worms, even the Linux side had fewer popular viruses and worms.

Patching got easier. Not only did more and more sophisticated patch management tools arrive from every sector, but there were fewer patches to deploy. Administrators got better at blocking hackers and malware. And end users don’t click on every file attachment they receive.

But security onslaughts attain greater significance as the year saw the metamorphosis of cyber malice into a highly organized and sophisticated international crime syndicate, where the likes of ‘phishing’ and ‘spamming’ have gone through drastic evolution.

Eighty-seven per cent of the more than 2,000 public and private enterprises that took part in the FBI survey said that they had undergone one or the other kind of security attack. Virus, spyware and adware top the list where a significant amount of businesses faced systems and data sabotage. One third of the companies detected port scans of their systems, a method used by attackers to identify vulnerable PCs to sneak in, the survey said.

A staggering 98 per cent of survey respondents said they used antivirus software, of which nearly 84 per cent still suffered a virus attack.

According to U.S.–based security and communications software vendor MicroWorld Technologies Inc. in Farmington Hills, Mich., many antivirus software products fail to prevent virus attacks because they work in a reactive way with known virus signatures, and hence cannot take on newer threats. Enterprises must revaluate the kind of technology and effectiveness of many leading antivirus and security software they use.

The stuff that is getting by our defenses is more dangerous: Malware went criminal. Most of today’s malware exists to steal confidential information, send spam, or steal identities. Now, malware is getting harder to remove, hiding better, and contains more tricks and exploits than ever.

IT managers and system administrators reported spyware and viruses were the most common problem, followed by port scans, sabotage of data or networks, and adult pornography. While not necessarily illegal, adult pornography is against the policy of most organizations, the study noted.

More than 50 per cent of hacking attempts came from within the U.S. and from China, as many organizations were able to trace where intrusion attempts originated. But hackers are using computers that are under their control but located in other countries, combined with the use of proxies to make detection more difficult.

The FBI said a Romanian hacker could use a proxy computer in China to gain access to a compromised computer in the U.S., leading to a false conclusion that the attack originated in the U.S.

Antivirus software is widely used, and most organizations also have firewalls in place, the survey said. But 44 per cent reported that intrusions came from within their own organizations, and “this is a strong indicator that internal controls are extremely important and should not be underemphasized while concentrating efforts on deterring outside hackers,” the FBI said.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed had implemented event logging on their network, a measure the FBI said is a crucial element in tracking crime. And half of those stored the logs on a remote protected server.

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