A three-year campaign to plug security holes in PCs used by millions of home users and small businesses aims to turn the UK into a hard nut for cyber-criminals to crack.
Launched by ministers this week, the £2m campaign, dubbed Endurance, could deprive hackers of an important staging post in their attacks against corporate IT systems, the National High Tech Crime Unit said.
"Organised crime groups are certainly attacking internet users in this country and we can stop that with sensible approaches through these campaigns. Our ambition is to make the UK unattractive to organised crime groups," said Mick Deats, deputy head of the unit.
The unit is concerned that criminal gangs are using unsecured PCs in homes and small businesses to launch denial of service attacks against larger firms and extort money from them.
The unit is currently investigating a series of denial of service attacks against online betting sites, which were launched from compromised PCs around the world.
Deats said criminal gangs were also using poorly secured PCs as staging posts for phishing attacks on the accounts of customers of online banks.
The campaign, due to be announced by Home Office minister Mike O’Brien at the CBI conference this week, aims to attract backing and funding from the big firms affected by the attacks.
"Consumers and micro-businesses that do not know how to look after their systems get used as bot-nets, and get viruses on their systems. The bot-nets can be used to launch denial of service attacks, send out rogue emails and promote various other activities which damage large corporations," said Jeremy Beal, head of the CBI’s e-business unit.
The Association of Payment Clearing Services also lent its support to the campaign, urging online retailers to adopt technology to secure credit card transactions over the internet. Its research shows that 14 million people in the UK bank online, and that 21 million people have bought something on the internet at least once in the past 12 months. At the same time, card not present fraud has risen 29% to £138.8m.
"This initiative aims to bring together the joint resources of both the public sector and industry in a concerted effort to reach out and provide clear advice and information on internet safety," said Stephen Marsh, director of Central Sponsor for Information Assurance within the Cabinet Office.