Thought for the day: Catch cyberspace cash thieves

As thieves get smarter and target the cash in cyberspace, Magnus Ahlberg warns companies must start with securing mobile devices...

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As thieves get smarter and target the cash in cyberspace, companies must secure their mobile devices, warns Magnus Ahlberg.




According to security specialists, worldwide criminal activity on the internet is growing exponentially both in frequency and complexity. Thieves are getting smarter at targeting the ever-increasing flow of money through cyberspace - making the pickings more tempting than ever.

The price of sensitive data and intellectual property goes up too in leaner times. 

You stand a much greater chance of winning a new business contract or landing a well-paid job if you have a great database of sales leads, new product specificiations or competitors marketing plans to trade off. 

We're not condoning these methods, far from it. Over the past six months we have seen a significant increase in customers requiring tighter security on their mobile devices as more laptops and PDAs have gone missing .

According to a survey conducted for the UK National High Tech Crime Office, 98% of the companies interviewed had experienced a computer-enabled crime in the past 12 months. 

Theft of laptops dominated these crimes, with 77% of organisations having falling foul to laptop theft.  Obviously, it is not so much the cost of replacing the laptop or PDA which is of concern to these large organisations, but the ramifications of where the information has gone to.

In Toronto recently the theft of a computer hard drive resulted in 180,000 customers of a Canadian insurance company being warned about possible identity theft. 

In Kentucky, a hard drive up for sale at a second-hand office supplier, contained confidential files with the names of thousands of Aids patients and people with other sexually transmitted diseases.

And in Arizona, sensitive information including names, addresses, social security numbers and possibly medical records of more than 500,000 retired and serving US military personnel, were stolen.

All these large organisations should never have put their customers or employees at risk. But these examples of lax security are more frequent that we are led to believe, or get to hear about, because of the financial damage it could do to them.

Last spring, hackers broke into a bank's database and gained access to accounts of wealthy customers. Millions of dollars were transferred overseas. The bank managed to undo most of the transfers, but total losses, including a security clean-up, came to more than $1m. Customer confidence also hit rock bottom, with many leaving to find more security-conscious banks.

You could argue that in a weak economy with budgets and personnel stretched to the limit, companies that added many new technologies to their computer systems now find themselves lacking the resources to secure those systems against break-ins.

However, it need not cost fortunes to secure a company from insiders or outsiders wanting to get at valuable information.

The most important starting point is to have a sensible and easily administered security policy which takes into account all the companies mobile devices.

What do you think?

How has your company fought against computer break-ins?  Tell us in an e-mail>> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Magnus Ahlberg  is managing director of Pointsec Mobile Technologies

Pointsec Mobile Technologies are exhibiting at Infosecurity Europe, Europe's largest information security event being held at Grand Hall at Olympia from 29 April - 1 May 2003. 

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