Beware Trojan horses, hackers, slow fuses

Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, hackers and hoaxes, firebombs and poison biscuits have turned cyberspace into a rather forbidding jungle. As households, businesses and government agencies become increasingly reliant on the Internet for their daily tasks and the provision of services, cybercrime is the most rapidly developing sector of criminal activity. All Internet users are constantly under threat and this is not just restricted to the destructive powers of certain viruses; some intruders may download personal and sensitive data from a private user’s hard drive and transfer it into less than savory hands. An intrusion into an e-banking or e-commerce transaction may end up costing a lot more than initially expected and the theft will be carried out with a method even more untraceable than that of a wily cat burglar. But the safety of our personal computers is not the greatest problem we face. According to the managing director of MD5, a company specializing in network security and computer forensics, George Romanos, «most security systems in public services, and big businesses as well, are about as airtight as a sieve.» A few months ago, for example, Olympic Airways made public a breach in its central telephone network. This breach cost the company almost 3 million euros and Romanos warns it is just one example. Citing the fact that many businesses have had breaches in both their land-line and mobile telephony networks that have cost a pretty penny, he also warns of the danger of users’ personal data being taken advantage of. Another critical sector is healthcare and hospitals, where electronically processed data is practically served up to any persistent hacker. Extortionists or insurance company agents would easily find such data very useful indeed. Sometimes, says Romanos, cybercriminals use more «traditional» methods. For example, a thief could replicate a credit card on a computer using the data printed on an ATM receipt slip. Generally though, cybercrime is a high-tech operation and, according to Romanos, «we’re running to catch up with the baddies,» which is why constant vigilance and extensive user training is necessary for network managers and security systems operators. Cybercrime and its legal status is, in Greece, something that will be of concern to us increasingly in the future. For example, in 2001, only three or four cybercrime cases were tried. These skyrocketed to 60 cases in 2002, while in the period to May of this year alone, the number of instances rose past 100. Of course, the actual number of cybercrimes being committed is well into the thousands.