Crime the main motive for cyber attacks, report finds

26 Jan 2006

Although there were fewer worldwide computer virus outbreaks last year than in 2004, there are signs of a growing criminal element becoming involved in online attacks or frauds, experts believe.

According to IBM’s Global Security Intelligence team, cybercrime patterns are changing from widespread global attacks to more focused attacks against smaller targets.

“The decrease in pervasive attacks in 2005 is counter-intuitive to what society at large believes is a major threat to their personal data,” said Cal Slemp, vice-president of IBM’s security and privacy services. “IBM believes that the environment has shifted — with increased security protection on most systems and stiffer penalties, we are seeing organised, committed, and tenacious profiteers enter this space.”

As a result, attacks will be more targeted and potentially damaging, Slemp said. “Organisations around the world — from the public and private sectors — must move quickly and work together to address this growing challenge.”

Data from IBM’s 2005 Global Business Security Index Report measured the global IT threat landscape last year as medium level. Last summer’s Zotob worm may have grabbed the headlines because it infected some high profile media outlets but it was one of only a few major attacks during the year. Just 2.8pc of emails contained a virus or Trojan horse program last year, down significantly from 2004 levels of 6.1pc.

However, arrests of cybercriminals in the US and around the world are indicating a shift, as individuals are now being connected to organised crime and motivated to make money. It is believed that criminals will focus their efforts on convincing end users to execute attacks instead of wasting time trying to discover vulnerabilities in software that could be used. According to IBM’s Global Security Intelligence team, greater focus on securing software and networks means that the weakest point for many organisations is personnel.

Outlining potential trends for 2006, IBM said that cyber criminals would look to take advantage of the difficulty in international co-operation between police forces. This situation means that cross-border attacks can be launched with minimal personal risk, leading IBM to conclude that the threat to and from emerging and developing countries will increase.

“It then becomes far more difficult to trace the attacks back to their source, especially when trends show attacks are increasingly originating from regions, such as Eastern Europe and Asia, where sanctions are more lenient and enforcement is limited,” the IBM report said.

By Gordon Smith