Computer Crime Research Center


IT expert warns of cyber-crime threat

Date: April 09, 2004
Source: Computer Crime Research Center
By: Robert Smith

CYBER-CRIME is on the rise across the Middle East, according to a leading British expert on Internet fraud. UK-based Zentelligence managing director, Simon Moores, warned that government, business and private computer users are all at risk from the growing global phenomenon.

He blamed poor IT security measures and below-par legislation for turning the region into a breeding ground for hackers.

"I would characterise the Gulf region as being more malicious vandal types of attacks," he told the GDN yesterday.

"Over the last month or so most of the virus and worm attacks coming into my system have come from the region. Most recently from Oman, but a lot of them come from Kuwait."

Kuwait is understood to have one of the highest ratios of hackers in the world in relation to its population.

It is second only to Canada in terms of the number of "attackers" per capita, according to Gartner consultant Dr Gordon Frank.

That is thought to be the result of a young population experimenting with new technology.

However, it could be due to lax security measures in the region which allow others to hijack computers and use them for illegal purposes.

There is currently no law in Bahrain to prosecute hackers, according local lawyer Abdulla Hashim.

"Maybe the youth are experimenting with different stuff or the systems are being hijacked," said Mr Moores.

"You have poor security precautions in place in government offices - systems can be exploited and compromised.

"There appears to be a fashion of writing malicious content, particularly in this part of the world.

"The region has to make sure that legislation is in place to make it an offence."

Mr Moores was speaking to the GDN during a conference yesterday on IT security.

It was organised by Microsoft North Gulf at the Sheraton Hotel as part of efforts to spread awareness in the region.

An E-crime Congress took place in London in February which attracted 400 participants from around the globe.

However, Mr Moores - who has worked as Technology Ambassador for the British government - says there were no Arab delegates.

In fact, he thinks the problem is so serious here that he has called for a regional IT security seminar to push the issue further up the agenda.

"My recommendation is to invite people from the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and leading security experts for a seminar - that kind of thing," he said.

Bahrain in particular has been advised to act to protect the hundreds of financial institutions operating out of the country.

Mr Moores says every bank in the UK has at one time been affected by cyber-criminals, who exploit gaps in security networks to defraud both individuals and private institutions.

In the UK alone computer crime is estimated to have cost over $400 million (BD151m) last year - with four companies known to have lost over $50m each.

It is likely that Bahrain's financial sector is also at risk, according to Mr Moores.

However, there is a reluctance on behalf of companies to report Internet crime to the authorities. It is believed only 24 per cent of computer crime is reported in the UK.

That means companies in Bahrain may have already fallen prey to cyber-criminals, but never even informed the police.

However, Mr Moores says personal users have a major part to play in combating "e-crime".

One of the biggest problems is caused by people who have broadband Internet access and leave their PC online 24-hours-a-day.

"In the past if you had a dial-up connection then viruses and worms were your problem," he said.

"With broadband a virus may damage your system. However, you may see no visible impact - but it could open a back door to your system that a third party can use.

"They can look for account information, personal passwords or use your system to use in service attacks.

"Someone could control 100,000 personal computers - even one million personal computers across the world - and the users would not know what's happening."

Internet users are therefore being urged to use the latest, most cost effective protection on the market. This includes the latest anti-virus software, firewalls and an up-to-date version of Microsoft Windows.

Meanwhile, Mr Moores warned that as more people connect to the Internet the risk of infection increases.

Viruses are now said to be spreading faster than anti-virus patches can be distributed.

"This year they are expecting a big event to happen - something really nasty," he said.

However, there are some positives to come out of growing Internet awareness across the Arab world.

One example is web journals written by women in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Someone even posted updates on day-to-day life in Iraq after the war had started, while groups like Hamas use it to present their case on the Internet.

However, it is also used to wage war against economic interests seen as unfriendly by groups like Hamas.

"It is something that is going to spread," said Mr Moores. "Also using worms or systems to launch attacks against political sites.

"These are mostly against Israeli or Jewish business interests."
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2004-12-03 23:17:22 - Student at Baker University majoring in... John Pray
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