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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Cyber crime booms in 2004

The last 12 months have seen a dramatic growth in almost every security threat that plague Windows PCs.

The count of known viruses broke the 100,000 barrier and the number of new viruses grew by more than 50%.  Similarly phishing attempts, in which conmen try to trick people into handing over confidential data, are recording growth rates of more than 30% and attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Also on the increase are the number of networks of remotely controlled computers, called bot nets, used by malicious hackers and conmen to carry out many different cyber crimes.

One of the biggest changes of 2004 was the waning influence of the boy hackers keen to make a name by writing a fast-spreading virus, said Kevin Hogan, senior manager in Symantec’s security response group.  Although teenage virus writers will still play around with malicious code, said Mr Hogan, 2004 saw a significant rise in criminal use of malicious programs.

The financial incentives were driving criminal use of technology, he said.  The Anti-Phishing Working group reported that the number of phishing attacks against new targets was growing at a rate of 30% or more per month.  Those who fall victim to these attacks can find that their bank account has been cleaned out or that their good name has been ruined by someone stealing their identity.

This change in the ranks of virus writers could mean the end of the mass-mailing virus which attempts to spread by tricking people into opening infected attachments on e-mail messages.

The opening months of 2004 did see the appearance of the Netsky, Bagle and MyDoom mass mailers, but since then more surreptitious viruses, or worms, have dominated.

Mr Hogan said worm writers were more interested in recruiting PCs to take part in “bot nets” that can be used to send out spam or to mount attacks on websites.

Anti-spam firms report that, in many cases, legitimate e-mail has shrunk to less than 30% of messages. 

In the past, threats to smart phones have been largely theoretical because the viruses created to cripple phones existed only in the laboratory rather than the wild.

On the positive side, Finnish security firm F-Secure said that 2004 was the best-ever year for the capture, arrest and sentencing of virus writers and criminally-minded hackers.

Posted on 12/30