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Always Look on the Bright Side

I don’t wish to appear alarmist but on the one hand, you have Sir John Stevens warning us that a terrorist attack on London is inevitable and on the other, there’s talk among the IT security vendors, among them Symantec, of a ‘Zero Day’, ‘blended’ threat being imminent.

On the heels of the fuss last month surrounding the escape of Microsoft’s older source code into the wild, a “zero-day” blended threat, say Symantec, could target a potential vulnerability before that vulnerability is discovered and a patch made available. If such an outbreak occurs, the results could make Blaster look like a bad case of the sniffles in contrast with a raging flu pandemic.

Added to this, The Computer Virus Prevalence Survey found that last year, almost a third of the businesses polled worldwide had suffered a virus "disaster," defined as twenty-five or more computers infected by a single virus in the same incident. The survey indicated that antivirus software isn't a complete defense again the risk of infection. And it claims that almost all of the companies surveyed said that at least ninety percent of their desktops have antivirus protection, but still a third of the companies suffered virus disasters.

As many experts have predicted, the payloads being carried by viruses are showing signs of becoming more destructive. Netcraft reports that a Slammer-like worm dubbed Witty is spreading rapidly this week, generating large amounts of network traffic and leaving ruined computers in its wake. The worm, say Netcraft, exploits a weakness in the widely-used Black Ice security products, and is not detected by antivirus software, as it resides in memory. When an infected system is rebooted, Witty deletes a randomly chosen section of the hard drive, rendering some machines unusable.

Symantec, in its latest Internet Security Threat Report, warns that the Windows operating system uses components that are common to both corporate and consumer environments. Due to their extensive use, vulnerabilities in these components may make rapid, widespread severe events more likely. It also warns that client-side vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are on the rise. These, it says, may allow attackers to compromise the systems of client users who unwittingly visit malicious Web sites. In the past six months, researchers discovered thirty-four vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer.

Even bookies aren’t safe in cyberspace. A joint Netcraft and BBC investigation has revealed that in the Sport of Kings, ‘knobbling’ the jockey or his horse is a crime of the past Instead, organised crime is using new methods to achieve its goals. The UK's top twenty betting sites have suffered thirty-three separate outages since March 1st, among them reportedly William Hill, Betdaq, Totalbet and UKBetting who have admitted being the victims of Denial of Service (DOS) attacks or received extortion demands by criminals prior to the start of the Cheltenham Festival on 15th March.
Ironically, as a consultant, in the information security and computer crime space, I’m restricted in what I can write, by client confidence and non-disclosure agreements. I can however express my opinion that in some areas of the economy, these matters give rise to more concern than many of us might think they do and industry is short on immediate solutions to what we might call ‘The inevitability problem’.

Longer term, there’s industry optimism over the information security response to today’s problems but the future is a long way away in Internet terms and in the present, there’s a pervasive pessimism, much like that felt by ‘dug-in’ troops waiting for the enemy’s next artillery barrage and wondering if their foxholes are deep enough


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