Cyber attacks on rise as hackers wise up to beat security systems

Bill Goodwin reports

@ Computerweekly, © 1999 Reed Business Information Limited

Cyber attacks are increasing dramatically as hackers and virus writers learn new techniques to evade computer security systems.

During the first half of 1999, 1,700 serious recorded cyber attacks cost businesses worldwide more than $7bn (£4.43bn), although this is probably just the tip of the iceberg, research by security consultancy mi2g revealed in a report.

By the end of the year, cyber attacks are likely to have caused more than $20bn worth of damage, with the number of serious reported incidents expected to rise from just over 1,000 in 1998 to an estimated 3,000.

Between March and June this year, pro-Serbian hackers infiltrated government and military sites, FTSE-100 companies, two UK Internet service providers, universities and e-commerce start-up companies, the report said.

Hackers working from Russia, Latvia, Serbia and Bulgaria sent e-mails containing embedded viruses capable of deleting files from hard disks, via hijacked mail transfer systems, the group said. Some attacks targeted as many as 100,000 systems simultaneously. Further damage was caused by Mellissa, Chernobyl and ExploreZip virus attacks.

Although most cyber attacks involve guessing passwords and exploiting security holes in operating systems and programs, there are signs that hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

New tricks reported this year include forging Internet protocol addresses, hijacking log-in sessions and exploiting the source routing options in operating systems, mi2g's report said.

Cyber attacks are increasing at a rate of 45% a quarter. But many incidents go unreported by organisations worried about bad publicity or simply unable to detect breaches.

Too few senior board directors realise that cyberspace is such a dangerous world, said mi2g managing director DK Matai.

"The recent share price decline in the stock of those companies that have been attacked on the Internet or have suffered IT system outages makes a compelling case for why board directors must take notice of cyber security," he said.

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