Online security: Malware writing becomes big-time crime

Online security: Malware writing becomes big-time crime

“Fifteen years ago we saw a thousand types a malware a month, now we see three thousand a day,” says Richard Cohen, threat operations manager of Sophos Lab during a tour of the company’s head office outside Oxford in England last week.

That one statistic alone describes the scale of online security risks facing every computer user. Making matters worse is that the attackers have moved from enthusiastic amateurs to committed professionals.

A particularly notable change for home and small businesses has been the risk of ‘ransomware’ where a computer’s data is held hostage by the bad guys until an unlock code is paid for.

Like many things in the computer world, ransomware isn’t new. However, the latest breed uses the latest cryptographic tools.

“Now there’s money involved, there’s serious effort,” says Sophos Labs vice president Simon Reed. “The quality of malware has gone up.”

The early versions of ransomware were a joke, usually just being a scary opening screen warning people of the FBI or a similar agency had detected illegal downloads on their computer. Today – according to Sophos’ researchers – the new breed of malware features high level encryption that locks away data fairly comprehensively.

While the researchers at Sophos were briefing me on the online risks they see, on the other side of the world Eugene Kasperski, founder of Russia’s most successful computer security company, was addressing an Australian National Press Club lunch on the state of the anti-virus market.

“Traditional criminals are stupid,” Kasperski told the lunch. “Computer criminals are different. They are geeks; geeks with broken minds.”

The message to homes and small business from both Kasperski and Sophos is quite clear – you have to take online security seriously. Start doing so now. Here are some quick tips to secure your own computers to start with.

Paul Wallbank‘s latest book, eBu$iness, Seven Steps to Online Success, shows how business can get online quickly and cost effectively using web 2.0, cloud computing, social media and e-commerce tools.


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