by Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service
December 23, 2004
In the Internet's infancy a decade ago, the major threat came from novice hackers experimenting with ways of breaking into someone else's computer for fun. But today's hackers are more malicious and driven to make money from their Internet expertise.
"One of the biggest trends we see is a shift in the attackers intent to financial gain and making money on the deal," said Brian Dunphy, director of global analysis at the virus-blocking software company Symantec.
Dunphy noted that e-mail "phishing" scams were rare only a year ago, but they're exploding both in terms of frequency and media attention.
Phishing refers to fraudulent Internet sites often set up to mimic the sites of real banks. Customers are told via e-mails their accounts have been suspended and then are directed to the phony sites where they are asked to provide sensitive information like their Social Security numbers, their bank account numbers or other personal information.
The Anti-Phishing Working Group, an organization set up by business to monitor phishing, estimates 5 percent of those who get the fraudulent e-mails respond to them. Bank of America, Ebay and PayPal are among organizations that say clients have been victimized by the scams, which some surveys say may have cost consumers more than $1 billion in losses.
Dunphy said hackers are also showing increasing sophistication in exploiting vulnerabilities in software. He said that between the month-long time Microsoft warned that it had discovered a flaw in its software and the time it circulated a patch, hackers had developed their software to take advantage of it.
Dunphy said the major source for hacking attacks remains the United States, although there has been an increase in activity from Western Europe and Asia-Pacific regions. "It's always difficult to tell who these people are or how many there are out there," he said.
Dunphy warned that mobile phones also soon can expect to have virus problems. "We've already seen proof of the concept and some viruses," he said. "We're seeing the early pieces of that trend line."
Reach Lance Gay at gayl(at)shns.com