Computer intrusion losses waning

Once more unto the breach

Computer intrusions are on the decline for the third year in a row, at least among respondents to an annual survey conducted by the Computer Security Institute (CSI) and the FBI's computer crime squad.

Nearly 500 computer security professionals in US corporations, government agencies, financial institutions, medical institutions and universities responded to the 2004 survey, with 53 per cent reporting that their organization experienced unauthorized use of computer systems during the prior 12 months - down from 56 per cent in 2003. Thirty-five per cent believed they had not been breached, and 11 per cent said they didn't know.

Overall financial losses totaled out to $141m for the 269 respondents willing to quantify their losses, down significantly from 251 respondents reporting $202m in losses in 2003.

Reported losses to intellectual property theft plummeted to $11m in 2004, putting denial of service attacks in the number one spot as the most expensive computer crime, allegedly causing $26m of the total losses. Twenty-eight per cent of the respondents said their organization had insurance policies to help manage cybersecurity risks.

Despite federal government efforts to encourage information sharing between industry and the Department of Homeland Security, the survey "detected no increase in the disposition to share information about security intrusions," according to the report. The percentage of companies suffering intrusions who reported them to law enforcement dropped from 30 per cent to 20 per cent; the most common reason for keeping an intrusion quiet was fear of negative publicity, a factor for 51 per cent of the companies that failed to report a breach.

While comparisons with previous years may be enlightening, the CSI/FBI survey is decidedly unscientific: the sample pool is self-selected from a panel of computer security professionals. CSI director Chris Keating cautioned against drawing overly optimistic conclusions from the downward trends reported in the study.

"Obviously, computer crime remains a serious problem and some kinds of attacks can cause ruinous financial damage," Keating said in a statement. "We don't believe that all organizations maintain the same defenses as our members - financial damages for less protected organizations are almost certainly worse."

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