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The Internet's Light And Dark Sides

Editorial Type: Feature     Date: 11-2013    Views: 4678   

While the internet can be a positive force for good, it is also a haven for the very bad - and it doesn't get much worse than cybercrime. What is being done to protect UK businesses? Are the cybercriminals getting the upper-hand in a one-way battle? Brian Wall finds out

Cybercrime seems to be a pervasive force in every sense, as Bill Walker, security analyst at QA, points out. "You can't watch a Hollywood blockbuster these days without a character hacking into someone else's network. It also seems that, most weeks, we read about another hacking episode affecting governments, businesses or individuals. The British government recently announced the nation's first cybercrime unit to address a threat it says is becoming 'ever more complex'. "Up to a third of the British public fell victim to, or were affected by, online crime last year. Cybercrime is no longer the stuff of science fiction."

According to Symantec, cybercrime now costs consumers over US$100 billion a year and affects 1.5 million people every day. If cybercrime were a country's GDP, its national economy would rank in the top 60, out of 195 other countries. Meanwhile, a Ponemon report claims that 90% of large businesses have fallen victim to a cyber security breach. "It's no surprise that cyber-security training has become one of the fastest-growing areas in IT training, with the number of courses booked doubling over the past 12 months," adds Walker, who advises UK businesses on how to protect critical national infrastructure from cyber-terrorism.

Yet many of those affected don't report it. Businesses, in particular, have been reluctant to do so, for fear of publicly exposing their vulnerability. One recent and high-profile exception that Walker singles out is Telenor, the Norwegian telco. "The company went straight to the police and made a public announcement after it was hit by a cyber attack earlier this year."

In an interview with a local newspaper, Aftenposten, Telenor's security director said: "It's completely clear that those behind (the attack) were able to download information. There's no doubt we have lost data. Many companies are now obligated by law to disclose data breaches when they happen. LinkedIn, PayPal and Sony are just some of the large brands that have been attacked in the last year or so and have had to go public." And solving the issue? Not as simple as simply investing in the latest anti-hacking technologies, he warns.

"Despite the billions of pounds spent on the latest security IT, from next-generation firewalls to intrusion detection systems, one of the biggest risks facing businesses comes from businesses' own staff. A recent YouGov survey found that five per cent of staff confess to taking company data with them when they move to a new job [how many more don't admit it?]. Meanwhile, 23% admit to writing their passwords down or sharing them with colleagues. It's this kind of behaviour that causes data leakage or helps the bad guys get inside. Once they're in, they can wreak havoc; often before anyone even notices."

To help protect against this, every member of staff must learn to take all aspects of security seriously, particularly when it comes to ensuring password confidentiality. "Password overload is an issue for everyone. However, if they're not careful, individuals risk leaving the proverbial back door to the business open when they write passwords down or have a single password for everything.

UK businesses need to adopt a holistic approach to security that firmly merges technology with a security-aware workforce, Walker insists. "Once everyone understands the role they can play within the bigger picture of keeping a business secure, the risks can be minimised and the bad guys can be kept out."

As a wrap, he recalls a single attack, during the summer of 2012, when a group targeted more than 200 email accounts across 30 government departments. "The Foreign Office said that, without security in place, the hackers could have 'gained unfettered access to sensitive government information'. "Hollywood could not have made this up."

Cybercrime has been a major international issue for a number of years now, not just for national governments but also businesses and individual internet users. Indeed, it is estimated that 1 in 3 of us has been a victim of a cybercrime in the past year alone!

George Davies, CEO at MooD International, has some expertise in data and data management. Having worked in a number of sectors, including utilities, retail, telecoms and defence, he is well placed to comment on changes and issues around cyber security. "We live in an increasingly complex and technology-led world," he states. "Effective management, control and security of technology systems are essential to enable people to continue living their lives. The more complex the system, the more vulnerable to attack, However, vulnerability is increasingly difficult to measure, as there are so many variables, and an all too common reaction is either to ignore the problem and respond to incidents ad hoc or to pour money into what can be a black hole in the fight against cybercrime."

A smart approach to cyber security, he says, requires the right expertise - which often can only be secured through outsourcing IT provisions. "Through effective outsourcing, a targeted and business-focused approach is possible and this can bring additional benefits to business."

Better awareness at corporate level doesn't just helps companies, but also consumers. Data safety is increasingly important to consumers, as the latest Deloitte Consumer Review shows, finding that less than half of those questioned trusted companies to tell the truth about the quality of their cyber security measures, while only 40% felt their data was safe, even when they shared it with a company they trusted.

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