McAfee Report Projects Wave of International Cyber Crime

A McAfee report released today found that international cyber crime and espionage are on the rise, and will likely pose the most significant security threats in 2008.

"Location is irrelevant," said Dave Marcus, security and information manager at McAfee Avert Labs. "It's not U.S. Centric. This is a global issue."

The findings were part of the annual McAfee Virtual Criminology Report, examining emerging cyber and security trends on a global scale. Organizations such as NATO, the FBI, and SOCS contributed to the report, as well as experts from leading groups and universities.

The report indicated that cyber crime has grown exponentially on the world stage, and will continue to have a serious impact on international political and social systems. Cyber attacks have evolved into well-funded and complex crime organizations. Governments in 120 countries -- particularly China -- and other allied groups are using the Internet for cyber espionage and attacks, with targets that include national infrastructure network systems such as electricity, air traffic control, financial markets and government computer networks.

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"It's powerful in the same way it's dangerous. The Internet has become this equalizing playing ground," said Marcus. "Bad people around the world are realizing this is an easy way to make money."

As a result, cyber assaults, designed to circumvent many government defenses, have become increasingly sophisticated. Genetically modified "super" threats have introduced a new level of complex malware, which often contain highly sophisticated features.

Underground economies will also become stronger in the upcoming year. Cybercriminals will continue to offer specialized auction sites and product advertising. The cost of renting a platform for spam has dropped significantly, while criminals can easily buy custom-written Trojans. The legitimate white market economy that buys and sells software vulnerabilities -- which can fetch up to $75,000 -- will increasingly propel black market trades as the flaws fall into the wrong hands

However, while the Internet could possibly be a vehicle for executing terrorist attacks, Marcus said that it would more likely be used covertly by cyber criminals for large-scale data theft and other financial schemes.

"I think it will be very financially motivated," said Marcus. "There're a lot of economic drivers behind it. People look at malware as a valid form of staying alive. There's a lot of money to be made and a lot of poor people."

Until recently, the international cyber arena has been virtually unregulated. But experts say that they expect to see governments start to adapt to the impending waves of cyber crime by changing and enforcing international policy in the next five years.

"It doesn't matter where you write malware from, it needs to be illegal everywhere," said Marcus. "We need to bring everybody else into the same playing field."