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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The State of Cybercrime

Security firm, Finjan, said it had traced a botnet controlling some 2 million computers back to a six-man-strong cybergang in the Ukraine which was selling access to the computers for $50-100 on a Russian hackers' forum. About half of the infected PCs were in the US, and included PCs in high-ranking governmental agencies. Though only 6% of the compromised computers were located in the UK, a computer on the BBC network was found to be part of the botnet, as were computers within six different governmental departments. The gang has not been caught.

While many of the threats were (or would have been) detected by security procedures already in place, some 70 different computers in government agencies worldwide were part of the gang's botnet. All of them were operating under Windows OS and the gang's method of deployment was the exploitation of security holes in the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers.

Even more disturbing was the size of the botnet: last year, such networks consisted of hundreds of thousands of computers; this botnet contained some 2 million PCs!

Another large security firm, RSA, called for cooperation and collaboration between industry firms and experts in defending the Web and major networks against such threats, which it called "a true ecosystem... control[ling] massive armies of zombie computers." President Art Coviello, said, "We must evolve from acting independently to solve discreet information security problems to acting collaboratively to create a common development process."

RSA made the plea at a security conference in San Francisco - the largest of its kind to-date - which included industry luminaries from almost all the major companies, including Microsoft, Cisco, Symantec, and more. Coviello's suggestions of sharing technologies and abandoning individual, "piecemeal" security strategies boils down to eliminating "proprietary" software and technologies - at least where security is concerned. And this could have major ramifications for the "Browser Wars."

Originally a struggle between Netscape and then newcomer, Internet Explorer, the "Browser Wars" largely subsided by the turn of the century, with IE commanding an astounding 90+% of the market and Netscape being bought by AOL. However, Firefox in particular has provided IE a strong competitor, reigniting the battle. Proprietary technologies proved Netscape's downfall and has hurt Internet Explorer in the latest battle, as much of Firefox' appeal is its customization and open source format.

When it comes to Web security, Coviello's admonition is clear: competition does no one any good, leading only to "piecemeal [technologies] from multiple vendors, cluttering the information landscape." He flatly stated that vendors must be willing to share information. Enrique Salem, president and CEO of Symantec, echoed his sentiments.

Some related statistics suggest a webpage was infected every 5 seconds, more than 20,000 new forms of malware were discovered daily, and there were as many as 200,000 attacks an hour in 2008 alone.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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