Cybercrime on an upward spiral

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SummaryIt is an all-too-common headline: Prominent website brought down by attackers.

Everyone from governments to large enterprises, small business and home users are facing a wide range of digital threats from this growing menace

It is an all-too-common headline: Prominent website brought down by attackers. Whether it be a Fortune 500 global enterprise, a governmental agency or a small to mid-sized business (SMB)—all are on the target list of today’s cyber-thugs. Even security-savvy businesses with plenty of financial resources and experts to protect themselves have fallen victim to this threat, including Amazon, Visa, Sony, and lately some of the government websites here. The risk is real and increasingly dangerous.

A quick snapshot of this disturbing trend: McAfee says that the total number of data breaches in 2012 has already surpassed the figure for the entire 2011 calendar year; this year, close to 100 new database-related vulnerabilities have been disclosed or silently patched by developers. Among Web and messaging threats, the wholly owned subsidiary of Intel saw a 20% increase in the third quarter this year in suspicious URLs, with a vast number of these URLs hosting malware.

In Q3, McAfee says that the number of unique samples of ransomware, which extorts money from its victims, grew by another 43%, making it one of the fastest-growing areas of cybercrime. Devices are infected via links in email and social networks, drive-by downloads, and pay-per-install methods. Most malware typically accuses the user of visiting illegal websites, locks the computer, and then demands a payment to unlock the device. Although victims can pay, they are not guaranteed complete system restores.

Online financial fraud attacks have spread too. New research indicates that Operation High Roller, a financial fraud ring identified earlier this year by McAfee Labs and Guardian Analytics, has now spread outside Europe, including to the United States and Colombia. Cybercriminals set up an automated transfer system (ATS) that was used to attack European financial institutions, and set out to target a major US multinational financial institution.

“Cybercrime exhibits few signs of slowing down,” says Vincent Weafer, senior vice-president of McAfee Labs. “Though we tend to highlight the numbers, the fact is that we continue to see increased sophistication of attacks. Cybercrime, hacktivism, and cyber warfare are in a continual state of evolution. Everyone from governments to large enterprises, small business and home users are facing a wider range of digital threats from these forces, as they gain more actionable intelligence on their victims, and leverage the newest attack platforms and exploits tools to launch their campaigns. We all need to equip ourselves with basic situation awareness to our online risks and how best to prevent and combat these threats.”

Clearly IT needs be vigilant and take preemptive steps against cyber attacks, says Marvin Blough, vice-president, worldwide sales at SonicWall. San Jose-based SonicWall offers a range of firewall, anti-spam, remote access and network, backup and email security solutions, rivaling the likes of Cisco, Juniper and McAfee, among many other vendors. The security specialist was recently acquired by Dell with a view to complement the latter’s security solutions portfolio, enabling it provide a broader range of offerings to its enterprise customers. “Tech-security field is fast-growing and highly profitable and SonicWall provides Dell with unique intellectual-property resources and technology,” he adds.

Analysts reckon that Dell has been gradually transitioning from a PC-centric vendor to a portfolio technology company that offers enterprise to consumer solutions. Its acquisitions over the past five years have added storage, networking, software and professional services to its portfolio, putting it on par with competitors such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

Dell has been trying to boost profit margins by focusing on being an one-stop-shop for business customers and increasing exposure in enterprise solutions offerings and making its presence felt in mobile security and cloud solutions segment. “Security is still a big, big issue for everyone,” says Marvin. “Companies want to go with lesser number of vendors or one vendor who has end-to-end solution since managing 10 different vendors for 10 different specifications is difficult and expensive. With companies moving over to cloud computing, the responsibility to manage the moving over phase comes down to the one vendor the company relies on. Our cloud computing technology is economical and saves time in the ever fast moving world where new products and technologies are being invented every day,” he adds.

Martin says that enterprises of all sizes face increasing challenges in maintaining effective IT security, from the exponential growth of data and rapid adoption of cloud-based solutions, to the increased presence of consumer devices brought into the enterprise environment. “SonicWall expands Dell’s rapidly growing security software and services portfolio, which includes security services, cloud security solutions, data encryption solutions and vulnerability and patch management.”

If an enterprise does business anywhere on the internet, it is likely not a question of if, but when it will be targeted by a cyber attack. Yet there is much IT can do to minimise and deflect the impact. “It is important that businesses are aware and take proactive steps to prevent becoming the next victim of a cyber attack,” he summarises.

VIRTUAL MESS

* The total number of data breaches (100) in 2012 has already surpassed the figure for the entire 2011 calendar year

* Online financial fraud attacks have spread worldwide in Q3 2012

* Mobile malware shows steady growth, while the Android platform remains the largest target

* Ransomware, which extorts money from its victims, becomes one of the fastest-growing areas of cybercrime

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