The rise in international cyber spying will pose the single biggest security threat in 2008. Meanwhile, consumers still face an increasing threat to online services like banking and we are seeing the emergence of a complex and sophisticated market for malware.
These are some of the findings from the annual McAfee Virtual Criminology Report, which examines emerging global cyber security trends with input from NATO, the FBI, SOCA (the Serious Organised Crime Agency) and experts from leading groups and universities.
The report reached the following conclusions:
* Governments and allied groups are using the Internet for cyber spying and cyber attacks;
* Targets include critical national infrastructure network systems such as electricity, air traffic control, financial markets and government computer networks;
* 120 countries are now using the Internet for Web espionage operations;
* Many cyber attacks originate from China and the Chinese have publicly stated that they are pursuing activities in cyber espionage;
* Cyber assaults have become more sophisticated in their nature and are specifically designed to slip under the radar of government cyber defences; and
* Attacks have progressed from initial curiosity probes to well-funded and well-organised operations for political, military, economic and technical espionage.
According to NATO insiders, many governments are still unaware of the threats facing them from Web espionage and some governments are leaving themselves open to cyber attack. These insiders believe the attack on Estonia, which disrupted government, news and bank servers for several weeks, is just the tip of the iceberg in cyber warfare.
"Traditional protective measures were not enough to protect against the attacks on Estonia’s critical national infrastructure," says Chris van Niekerk, regional
director: Africa at McAfee. "Unsurprisingly, botnets were used, but the complexity and coordination seen was new.
"There were a series of attacks with careful timing, using different techniques and specific targets. The attackers stopped deliberately, rather than being shut down," he adds.
"Cybercrime is now a global issue. It has evolved significantly and is no longer just a threat to industry and individuals, but increasingly to national security. We’re seeing emerging threats from increasingly sophisticated groups attacking organisations around the world. Technology is only part of the solution and over the next five years, we will start to see international governments take action."
Increasingly sophisticated threats to personal data and online services include:
* Genetically modified "super-threats": there is a new level of complexity in malware not seen before. These "super-strength" threats are more resilient; they are modified repeatedly like recombinant DNA and contain highly sophisticated functionality such as encryption draw. Nuwar (‘Storm Worm’) was the first example and experts say there will be more examples in 2008.
* New technology, new threats such as "vishing" and "phreaking": a new target for cybercriminals is Voice over IP (Internet Protocol) software. There have been several high-profile "vishing" (phishing via VoIP) attacks and "phreaking" (hacking into telephone networks to make long-distance phone calls). In Japan, 50% of all data breaches have been via peer-to-peer software. Cyber criminals will look for ways to exploit the popularity of applications on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
* A run on banks: experts believe a sustained cyber attack on banks could severely damage public trust in online banking and put the brakes on e-commerce. Critics believe the efforts to address online banking security will not be effective enough or fast enough.
The reports also found there is a complex and sophisticated market for the tools of cybercrime:
* Cyber criminals offer customer service: this underground economy already includes specialised auction sites, product advertising and even support services, but now competition is so fierce that ‘customer service’ has become a specific selling point.
* Laws of supply and demand apply: the cost of renting a platform for spamming has dropped and criminals can now buy custom-written Trojans that are built to steal credit card data.
* "White market" fuelling thriving black market: the "white market", which exists to buy and sell software flaws, (backdoor vulnerabilities with no available patch to fix them), is fuelling a virtual arms trade in potentially significant security threats. Software flaws can fetch big money – up to $75,000 (over R512 000) and experts believe that while this white market exists, there is an increasing danger of flaws falling into the hands of cyber criminals.