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Monday, 19 September 2011 02:20

Extreme risks from new cybercrime threats

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The weakest link in the security chain when confronting cyberthreats, including cybercrime attacks, is human action, otherwise known as 'wetware' in security industry jargon. And, we are warned, the world maybe looking down the barrel at a cybercrime disaster affecting not only personal users but businesses and governments.


According to a new report commissioned by security firm AVG, there is a major explosion in the size and complexity of global cybercrime combined with the disturbing news that, combined with the 'complacency of younger users' lives are put at risk.

In the survey of 7,000 across the UK and Europe, the firm commissioned by AVG, research agency The Future Laboratory, while cyber criminals and malicious programs are becoming increasingly sophisticated and difficult to detect, users are, alarmingly, 'becoming less vigilant about protecting their online devices,' with the combination of these two factors presenting a 'potentially disastrous cybercrime scenario.'

And, highlighted in the report is the phenomenon of so-called 'wetware', in which, we are told, the weak link in the security chain is not the technology but rather the human user. 'The growing risk stems not just from technology (software or hardware) but increasingly from human action (wetware),' Lloyd Borrett, security evangelist at AVG Australia and New Zealand says.

According to Borrett, if the weakest link in the Internet security chain is the person in front of the computer, security experts are now warning that the rise of social networks is leading to a rise in social engineering.

'Just as increased security provision by automotive manufacturers means that to steal a car today you have to steal the keys, with computer systems now capable of being comprehensively protected, the easiest way to get into a home or business computer is now through its owner.'

Borrett says that a third of Europeans surveyed by AVG and Future Poll don't update their anti-virus protection. It seems, from what AVG says that increasingly cyber criminals are focusing on deceiving the human rather than the machine, fooling the user into downloading and installing malicious software by posing as anti-virus providers or another trusted source.

'This means of entering a user's computer bypasses the normal security checks and makes the 'wetware' the weakest link, Borrett observes.

The author of the report, Dr Antonia Ward of The Future Laboratory, it's clear that cyber criminals are getting more and more sophisticated, 'not only in their programming but also in their methods. The idea that they're moving from using weaknesses in the software to attacking the 'wetware' is a disturbing one, and demands that we respond by improving people's awareness of these rogue programs so that they aren't so easily deceived.'

Key findings of the cyberthreats report were:

'¢    Cybercrime is on the increase as the tools and tactics which were previously used by hackers to cause disruption to machines and networks have been monetised by criminal gangs through bank fraud and ID theft.

'¢    Smartphones are no longer just phones, they are mini PCs, and consumers fail to realise that this makes them as vulnerable to cybercrime as a computer. Just 4 percent of French Internet and smartphone users are concerned about smartphone viruses. Money can be taken almost unnoticed through premium rate SMS fraud '” a crime which consumers are unlikely to spot.

'¢    Consumers are aware of the need for anti-virus protection but nearly one in ten of those surveyed fail to keep their protection updated. Alarmingly, the 18-35 age group (often cited as the group which is most digitally aware) is particularly complacent about this.

'¢    Increasing integration of the Internet into physical systems makes us increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attack. The 'Internet of Things' will soon become part of our connected world, opening new opportunities for hackers to cause harm and havoc.

And, if that's not enough to scare the living daylights out of you, the survey also identified five key threat scenarios:
'¢    Car-hacking '” Hackers could take control of your car's door locks, dashboard displays and even its brakes

'¢    Jailhouse Rocked '” Prisoners could be sprung from jail using only a USB stick

'¢    Health Scare '” Saboteurs could threaten the wellness technologies we depend on to keep us healthy

'¢    Sniffers & Blackouts '” Burglars could monitor your activities, then reprogram your home security systems from afar

'¢    Grid-Jacking '” Scammers and terrorists alike could find opportunities in hacking into the Smart Grid

Finally, a word of caution for the young, or the group we know as Generation Y. According to the report, those who have grown up with an awareness of digital threats are the most reckless about not protecting themselves.

The survey reveals, in fact, that almost half the UK's 18-35 year olds don't update their anti-virus software, and if they 'continue to behave like this as they grow older and gain more wealth and responsibility, then we could witness a cybercrime disaster affecting not just personal users but also businesses and governments,' warns JR Smith, CEO of AVG.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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