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    Cyber safety studies assess the latest online risks

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver July 31-August 6, 2007; Issue 927

    High Tech Office column

    This column has recently been looking at a series of gadgets to help users get through the summer holiday season. But the summer isn’t just gadgets and fun in the sun. In June, security company McAfee revisited its Internet security forecast for 2007 to see how the year was shaping up.

    There’s good news and not so good news.

    McAfee vice-president Jeff Green noted: “As we predicted, professional and organized criminals continue to drive a lot of the malicious activity on the Net. However, we were surprised that mobile malware and image spam tapered off.”

    According to McAfee, the trends to watch include:

    • A large rise in password-stealing phishing websites, up 784% in 2007 Q1. McAfee predicts this threat will spread from sites mimicking financial institutions and online auction and payment sites to popular collaboration websites such as wikis.

    • The total amount of spam has stayed steady so far this year, but more and more spam messages are using images in place of text; this makes it harder to detect with traditional spam filters and increases the bandwidth wasted transmitting and storing the spam messages. A year ago, image spam accounted for 10% of the total spam. In November 2006, that had risen to 40%. Early in 2007, that had risen to 65%.

    • Mobile attacks have been lower than predicted and are lower than last year, though a dozen new varieties of malicious software targeting mobile phones were found in the first quarter of the year.

    • Adware bundled with software downloads has gotten a (justifiably) bad reputation. As a result, mainstream companies trying to target consumers are looking elsewhere, for example at ad-supported video downloads.

    • Loss of digitized records containing personal information is up, often through loss or theft of portable storage devices and notebooks. According to, more than 13.7 million personal records have been lost in the first half of 2007, compared with 1.8 million in the same period of 2006.

    • “Parasitic malware” – viruses that modify existing files on your system – are making a comeback this year; McAfee’s Avert Labs’ virus tracking system has found over 150 new variants thus far this year.

    In a separate report, the company looked at the continued growth of cybercrime. It reported that 1.1 billion people worldwide are online, creating a huge global opportunity for crime. An FBI estimate put the 2005 losses to cybercrime in the U.S. at US$67 billion; a 2006 study of Canadian business found that almost two-thirds had lost income, customers or productivity as a result of cybercrime, with many businesses reporting higher losses to cybercrime than to traditional physical theft.

    Stay safe this summer.•

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan