Thought for the day: The weakest link

Computer crime within the financial sector appears to be growing, and reports claim that this has amounted to £1m. Simon Moores...

Simon Moores  
Computer crime within the financial sector appears to be growing, and reports claim that this has amounted to £1m. Simon Moores wonders if this could be the tip of the iceberg.





April wasn’t a great month for the banks from a security perspective.

Netcraft reports that attackers appeared to be scanning for Windows servers running Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) which remained unpatched against the Microsoft PCT (Private Communication Technology) security hole with the most active efforts apparently targeting Australian banks.

Designed to support secure and spontaneous commercial transactions, PCT is similar to SSL in many ways.

PCT operates on the transport level, making it independent of application protocols. PCT also incorporates RSA's asymmetric public/private key algorithm to authenticate both server and client, and is backward-compatible with SSL.

Ironically, claims that PCT corrects an earlier security hole in the design of SSL's handshake phase, a flaw through which potential attackers could gain access to session keys, which they could then use to authenticate a bogus client in a high-security environment and gain access to sensitive functions.

With an increase in scanning of port 443 - used by SSL to encrypt e-commerce transactions - The Sans Institute urged administrators running Windows servers to patch their systems immediately.

Sans warns that several published exploits allow attackers to gain control of unpatched Windows SSL servers and any customer data stored on them.

March, with 402 unique phishing attacks, set a new record for another exploit which targets financial services and it was revealed that not only has e-mail fraud cost UK banks more than £1m over the past 18 months, but that one in 20 e-mails (5%) were connected with phishing scams, according to Brightmail, adding that eBay is the most popular target company.

A million pounds may only be a tiny fraction of the total amount lost over the year to the old favourite, credit card fraud, which cost £402.4m, but my own suspicion is that the cost of computer crime in the financial services sector is significantly under-reported to avoid the risk of a decline in confidence from the public and shareholders.

How much, then, is computer crime really costing the global financial services industry? Your guess is as good as mine, but it has to be growing.

Having just returned from the banking hub of the Middle East, my own sources suggest that even international banking systems are only as good as their weakest link or branch in the chain.

That said, I was caught by a very low-tech but original scam last week from a long and drawn out eBay dispute. I received an envelope from Newcastleno9 by recorded delivery and inside was a note, saying, “Dear Simon, Sorry I’m out of cheques so here is your £310 in cash.”

I then opened the second sealed white envelope and, of course, it was empty.  Tough luck, said the police. “It’s your word against his in court now because you’ve opened the envelope and signed for it first.”

So, while computer crime continues to gain ground at the expense of the financial sector, the old scams still have a great deal of life in them yet, even in the leading edge world of online auction sites.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security .

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit

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