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Detective Chief Superintendent Len Hinds, head of the National High Tech Crime Unit(NHTCU), warned British business today that denial of service attacks, coupled with threats of extortion are the fastest growing threat faced by IT departments.

Hinds said: "We're seeing a marked increase in distributed denial of service attacks being utilised alongside extortion demands - like those suffered recently by online gambling sites."

He also warned of the increasing sophistication, and number, of spoof websites: "Eighteen months ago you would probably have realised the spoof site was a fake - but they are more sophisticated now, they appear part of a genuine site and they are set up to collect data." The number of such attacks reported to the NHTCU jumped last year from seven to over 50.

Hinds was speaking at the launch of the NHTCU Hi-Tech Crime Survey for 2003. Researchers from NOP spoke to 201 large and medium enterprises. A quarter of these were from the financial sector and more than half had over 1,000 employees.

Some 83 per cent admitted to being victims of some form of hi-tech crime during the year. Of these companies, 77 per cent had suffered a virus attack, 20 per cent a denial of service attack, 17 per cent financial fraud and 15 per cent saw a corporate website being spoofed.

The NHTCU asked businesses to estimate the cost of these attacks and reached a total figure of £195m. Three financial institutions accounted for £60m of this loss.The figures include not just stolen money but also the cost of downtime and damage to the company's reputation.

The survey marked the start of the second e-crime congress. For more information click here

David Aucsmith, architect and CTO of Microsoft's security business and technology unit, was asked if Microsoft security patches were part of the problem. He admitted that the process of installing patches was "not as painless as possible", but he said the company was working to improve the process.

In future patches will be smaller and most will not require a reboot - which Aucsmith compared to fixing a plane in flight. They will become Microsoft updates for all systems not just Windows. Aucsmith declined to comment further because Chairman Bill will be detailing the changes at the RSA conference this week. ®

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