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Dot-Com firms are hacking each other – expert

Sophisticated attacks launched in pursuit of the competitive edge

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All this talk of fifteen-year-old kids vandalising the Web is a smoke screen behind which dangerous, professional crackers are pleased to take cover, security expert Mark Rasch revealed during testimony before a Senate hearing on Internet security earlier this week. The lure of big, fast-money scores in virtual commerce is making it common for skilled hackers to attack competitors in search of free intellectual property, Rasch said before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. The present era of "dot-com millionaires and IPO frenzies and the ease of starting your own business" on the Web is creating "a tremendous amount of competition to acquire intellectual property" by any means at hand, Rasch, a vice president with security outfit Global Integrity, explained. "We see sophisticated attacks against computer systems in order to steal intellectual property which can be used in competition with other companies," he added. Info tech companies may be willing to report a nuisance attack such as the recent DDoS campaign, where no company assets are compromised. But Rasch believes that serious, costly, compromising attacks are rarely reported to the authorities. This is because such companies, which own nothing of substance but are valued principally according to the information they possess, depend heavily on consumer confidence. A prosecution and trial, Rasch observes, would make public the security vulnerability that was exploited, hence the company's hopelessly inadequate security measures, he implied. An info tech company will typically lose between ten and one hundred times more money from shaken consumer confidence than the hack attack itself represents if they decide to prosecute the case, he estimated. Further impediments to accurate cyber-crime reporting come from "a fundamental distrust" of law enforcement among the info tech industry. One common fear is that a crucial piece of equipment, like a main server, say, might be impounded for evidence by over-zealous investigators, thereby shutting the company down. It's hardly a surprise, then, that Rasch cited an estimate claiming that fewer than one in ten serious intrusions are ever reported to the authorities. We can safely assume that the few which are reported tend to be those least likely to shake consumer confidence. This explains why the public has been misled into believing that graffiti attacks and other nuisance intrusions by teenagers account for most of the cyber-crime going on. In fact, because it is to a company's advantage to suffer in silence, the real malicious hacking, which would involve the compromising of crucial data and intellectual property by rival tech firms -- and which probably represents the lion's share of online criminal activity -- is kept as a closely-guarded, dirty little secret. ®

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