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29 November 2007, 16:22

"Virtual Criminology Report" paints a gloomy picture

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Top of the bill in this year's cybercrime trends report from McAfee is a suggestion that governments are willing and potentially capable to engage in cyber warfare. Together with evidence of recent Chinese activities, a reappraisal of the DDoS attacks on Estonia in May this year is used to support this position. In the immediate aftermath of that incident experts reckoned that the attacks were the cumulative effects of uncoordinated action by small groups of nationalists. However, McAfee now suggests in this report that there are signs that the attacks might indeed have been more organised. In the opinion of Ms Yael Shahar, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Israel, “The whole sequence of events (in Estonia) looked a lot like the sort of thing a government would do in order to check how much it could get away with.”

McAfee calls this kind of activity "cyber cold war", and it differs markedly from the vision of cyber warfare dismissed only four years back by Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics Computer Security Research Centre and others as improbable. At that time, the model was of an "electronic Pearl Harbor": aggressors physically destroying or subverting critical national infrastructures via the internet. Today, the key prospect is assessed as abuse of the internet itself. Sommer himself now states “There are signs that intelligence agencies around the world are constantly probing other governments’ networks looking for strengths and weaknesses and developing new ways to gather intelligence”.

This accords well with the other main finding of this report: that internet crime is grounded in a thriving market economy of increasing sophistication and scale. The authors believe that safe havens for internet crime are likely to become more available and that the criminal fraternity has in general little fear of the law. They opine that "it will take cybercrime to become firmly rooted in society and to grow beyond a ‘manageable risk’ before it is tackled on a large scale."


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