Cyber crime goldmine – less than 1pc of money in world is physical

16 Mar 2011

“The internet is where the money is and hackers know this.” That’s the view of Trend Micro cyber crime expert David Perry, who has warned that cyber crime is big business for the organised crime gangs who realise 99pc of money in the world today is electronic.

“Organised crime gangs are becoming giant global organisations. I would not be too surprised to find quite a few cyber criminals living among you in Ireland,” said Perry, who is the global director of education for Trend Micro, the Japanese internet content security firm that employs 100 people in Cork.

Perry was attending the first eCrime Researchers event at UCD for cyber crime researchers, the gardai, other law enforcement agencies and academia.

Perry explained that cyber warfare among states is a real threat but in the overall scheme of things today accounts for a smaller part of the bulk of cyber crime activity.

“What people need to realise is the vast bulk of cyber crime is not visible and leaves no trace. Most cyber crime happens under your nose, it doesn’t crash your system but it is there to pick your pocket.

“Cyber thieves want your password for your bank account and credit cards.”

Organised cyber crime gangs

Perry said organised crime gangs are vast global organisations today who see cyber crime as a critical and growing component of their businesses.

“There was a famous bank robber in the States, Willy ‘The Actor’ Sutton who was asked why did he rob banks. He replied: ‘That’s where the money is.’ Today, the internet is where the money is.

“I am 57 and still think of money as notes and coins, but the reality is I can’t remember when I was last standing in a bank, because everything is electronic. Less than 1pc of all the money in the world is physical notes and coins. All the money in the world today is really just numbers on computers. That’s why the bankers are going there and that’s where the money is.

“There’s an entire world of money to be found online for cyber criminals,” Perry said.

As I write, a tweet pops up telling me there’s a Permanent TSB phishing email doing the rounds. This is just part and parcel of the dangerous place the internet is becoming for unsuspecting individuals.

Perry said more stringent means need to be identified to protect ordinary people from activities ranging from phishing to outright hacking. In the US, for example, banks still only use single-factor authentication – password and bank account number – creating a cyber thief’s paradise.

Future Shock – we’re just lambs to the slaughter

“People are lambs to the slaughter and obligingly treat a lot of what they do see as legitimate. In Japan, people are targeted by phishing both on email and even by fax. In Ireland, I know you’ve had people being rung up by bogus computer repair companies who end up installing viruses on computers and try to extort cash.

“This, in my opinion, abuses the trust my industry has earned over the years. We’ve got a world where in order to access your bank account you’ve got to prove who you are. But how come the bank doesn’t have to prove who they are?

“People who are cyber robbed become victims and it is very hard to get that money back, mostly never. And in addition it ends up hurting their credit ratings.

“And what’s worse is cyber crime abuses your trust in the world. That’s robbing you of something that is priceless.”

Perry said companies like Trend Micro are working on technologies that will study websites micro-seconds before a user arrives on those sites and protects them. “In life we know the dodgy neighbourhoods to avoid and the same should be true of the internet. Our R&D centre in Dublin is hard at work on these future technologies.”

One of the issues Perry has with the internet and the rise of social media is when you look at social media sites like Facebook, who is the customer? “I’m there but I’m not paying for anything and yet the site is attracting advertising in the range of billions of dollars. My fear is advertisers are milking you for your personal data that can be sold for market research.

“You are not the customer, you are the product,” he warns.

Referring to a book published in 1970 by Canadian sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler called Future Shock, Perry doesn’t believe mankind is emotionally prepared for the rate of change that is occurring in society.

“We are living in a world that is substantially different and most of us don’t realise how computerised, how automated and how searchable everything is and how that effects us. The world has moved to a new city called the internet and most of are not used to it yet.

“Some day we will embrace that culture and have better instincts for dealing with it, but right now we’re just lambs to the slaughter.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years