On-line ‘mass victimization’ inevitable – study

Only robust tech employment stands in the way

Opportunities to sniff about corporate networks and steal valuable data are ever-present temptations in the technology field, and it's beyond question that company secrets are occasionally sold to the competition by trusted employees for personal financial gain.

Furthermore, there's a large number of people about with the skills to break into remote networks without being detected, and heaps of automated tools enabling the less-than-leet to prey on the less-than-savvy in fairly hefty numbers.

The situation, however bad it is (and opinions do vary), would be heaps worse were it not for a steady supply of good job opportunities in the tech field, a study by the Gartner Group to be released within a fortnight observes.

"A factor inhibiting [such] attacks is the presence of a strong international market for employment of skilled technologists at good wages. In other words, most of the people who can execute [such] attacks find honest work, and do not need to turn to crime to make a living," the study, titled "The Era of Mass Victimization", notes.

Indeed, a recent article by Wired bears this out, revealing that according to the US Department of Labor, companies in the computer and data processing sector continue adding rather than chucking workers, in spite of what the media fascination with dotcom blowouts would lead one to imagine.

While certain regions of the New Economy are clearly (and deservedly) imploding, overall employment opportunities continue to be strong, the Gartner report's principal author, Richard Hunter, told The Register.

"Regardless of what's happening in particular sectors, industries remain dependent on technology and will continue to need tech workers," he told us.

But before we sigh with relief, it's worth noting that the world economy could at any moment reverse itself, and further that there is a vast supply of very capable computer enthusiasts living in regions where 'gainful employment' means something quite different from what most of us would take it to mean.

"A programmer living in Eastern Europe who gets a job earning $50 a month is a lucky programmer," Hunter notes. Then of course there's Russia, India, China, Nigeria, to name but a few places where tech training is good, and where the fully employed are paid poorly enough to make crime a very real temptation.

This mixture of opportunity and temptation combines unfortunately with a growing realization that cyber-crime enforcement is exceptionally poor and haphazard. Thus, "the economic value represented by cyber-crimes will increase by two to three orders of magnitude," by 2004.

And because so many tools exist or can be adapted to attack large numbers of Netizen, it's quite likely that "by the end of 2002, at least one incident of mass, surreptitious victimization of thousands of Internet users will have occurred in which the object was not vandalism, but theft. Given....the state of international law enforcement on the Web, the identity of the thief will remain unknown," the study predicts.

Of course if the economy tanks in the mean time, we can probably expect a few more such incidents within the same time-frame. So get to work. ®

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