HOME Technology Nov 2007
Cyberthreats escalate

Scams and spam on rise

An electronic crime wave has forced New Zealand Police to add new tools to their artillery to clean up what Police Commissioner Howard Broad describes as "cyberspace wild west".

Police are ramping up their
e-crime strategy for greater impact in the borderless Internet environment, where traditional crime fighting methods have proven ineffective, and increasingly sophisticated technologies are being used by the bad guys.
The new Wellington-based Police Electronic Crime Laboratory employs 14 staff using state of the art equipment to crack down on cybercriminals and electronically patrol places where they hang out. A partnership has also been formed with charitable Internet safety group Netsafe, aimed at keeping children safe from on-line exploitation

Anti-virus vendor Symantec in its second Internet Threat Report for 2007 agrees cybercrime has gone professional with crooks making complex, highly-targeted attacks and selling easy-to-use online hacking tools to recruit a new generation of Internet fraudsters.


Symantec found 95 percent of such attacks were on home users and that phishing attacks had increased 54 percent in the first half of 2007, when the company blocked more than 2.3 billion such messages, up 54 percent. A multi-billion economy is being fuelled through these attacks in conjunction with stolen credit cards sold on the Internet for a couple of dollars each.

Symantec consumer spokesperson Trudie Wood said the whole notion of privacy and security was changing. “
We’re living in an era of more collaboration and online interactions, with social networking, wikis, podcasts, blogs and RSS syndication feeds opening users up to a variety of potential security risks. It is no longer about protecting computers and other devices, but protecting the interactions of Internet users.  Today’s bad guys don’t need to pick your locks or break your windows, they attack you and your family over the Internet.”


Security company Sophos said web attacks had become widespread with an average of 30,000 newly-infected pages a day by June, a huge increase from 5000 pages earlier in the year. It claimed about 80 percent of all web-based malware was now hosted on legitimate, innocent, but compromised, sites.


Geoff Cossey from Chillisoft says it pays to remain cynical and suspicious on the Internet and even be cautious about communications with friends. Many people actually invite malware onto their machines when they click on interesting links or access e-cards that appear to be from trusted friends but end up infecting their machines.


Meanwhile worldwide spam levels continued to edge up, comprising around 70 percent of total email messaging by September. Spam - unwanted, unsolicited electronic junkmail - was tailing off but escalated again from mid-year. Auckland anti-spam company SMX, said by August the number of spam messages hitting New Zealand email systems was 100 percent up on the May numbers and 50 percent up on the previous record set in January 2006.

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act which finally made it to Parliament at the end of February was in full force from August.  The Act applied not only to email but instant messaging and texting. Unsolicited commercial messages were banned, along with any message that used a link to hide its content. Address-harvesting software and harvested address lists were prohibited. There were stiff penalties for breaches of the law.


The Act aimed to prevent New Zealand becoming a haven for spammers and gave legal ground for the Department of Internal Affairs to cooperate with global agencies.

With cybercriminals were becoming smarter, and new kinds of net nasties proliferating, it was increasingly up to individual users to ensure their systems and personal information were protected with the latest antivirus software, while remaining alert to any signs suggesting criminal activity. 

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