Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cybercrime: Tough Gig, or Easy Ride?

William Hague is to tell an international Cybercrime conference that "being a cybercriminal has never been easier."

Let's deal with these points in order. Firstly, for those of you reading this who hail from sunnier climes outside the UK, William Hague is a would-be UK Prime Minister who was constantly thwarted by unfortunate credibility issues, often involving peaked headgear. He's currently serving as Foreign Secretary, but since cabinet posts  change with alarming regularity, and seemingly require no qualification in your subject area, he'll probably be secretary for trouser pressing by the time I hit "publish".

So Mr. Hague is addressing a summit, or conference, or whatever else it is politicians do, and he intends to state that being a cybercriminal has never been so easy. I'm not sure I agree. In many ways, getting up to no good on the Internet has become much harder. For example, 10 years ago, if you wished to send an anonymous email, it was pretty easy to find an open relay. I've linked to the Wikipedia entry, because some of our younger viewers might be slightly incredulous that such a thing ever existed. You could fairly easily get hold of a free (or hacked) shell over telnet, to put another layer between your IP and the law (who wouldn't have known an IP address if it bit them). Finally, the recipient of your email would probably be much more receptive to offers of 10% of a pile of gold bullion from a Nigerian prince than they might be today.

So in the "Against" column, we have more tightly locked down systems, more savvy law enforcement, and users starting to wake up to risks on the Internet. We also have vulnerability reporting, and companies large and small beginning to take IT security seriously, as the clued-in customer base votes with their feet. I'm not saying we're even hitting "good" yet, but we're streets ahead of where we were 10 years ago.

How about the "For" column? What makes life easier for today's Inter-crim? A proliferation of victims, for one: Internet penetration continues to, er, penetrate, and more and more people are "connected". Wider ranging use of the Internet, particulary withe regard to money - I was an early adopter of Internet banking, and when I started using it, few of my peers were past "chequebook and pen". Now my parents use it (a good marker for when technology becomes pervasive perhaps?), and I am checking my balance on an eminently stealable, 24x7 connected, 3rd party software filled phone. Eek.  Finally, we should also consider the business side of web-based wrongdoing: you no longer need to be particularly clever to operate as an IT-fraudster, you can go out and buy off-the peg tools to bypass security restrictions.

So is it easier? Well, i'd argue it's probably easier to get into Cybercrime, but it's also easier to get caught. It's probably easier to find a victim, but the pool of victims is waking up to the threat. There are definitely more angles of attack, but software vendors are often starting with security in mind. No, I think it's probably no easier than it ever was.

Oh, wait. Our politicians are attending cybercrime conferences and talking about "files stolen by hackers which were equivalent to 20 million A4 pages" and "[telephone] international hotlines set up to help tackle emergencies". Cybercrims can get the cigars out and put their feet up, 2002 called, it wanted its tech back.

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