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The cost of individual cyber attacks fell dramatically in the US last year but unauthorised access and the theft of proprietary information remain top security concerns.

The 10th annual Computer Crime and Security Survey, put together by the Computer Security Institute (CSI) in conjunction with information security experts at the FBI, shows financial losses resulting from security breaches down for the fourth successive year. The cost of breaches averaged $204,000 per respondent - down 61 per cent from last year's average loss of $526,000.

Virus attacks continue as the source of the greatest financial pain, making up 32 per cent of the overall losses reported. But unauthorized access showed a dramatic increase and replaced denial of service as the second most significant contributor to cybercrime losses. Unauthorised access was fingered for a quarter (24 per cent) of losses reported in the CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey 2005. Meanwhile losses from theft of proprietary information doubled last year, based on the survey of 700 computer security practitioners in various US corporations, universities and government agencies.

The study found fears about negative publicity are preventing organisation from reporting cybercrime incidents to the police, a perennial problem the CSI/FBI study reckons is only getting worse. Assuming that this isn't true of what respondents also told CSI's researchers (academics from the University of Maryland), the study presents a picture of reducing cyber crime losses that contrasts sharply with vendor-sponsored studies.

Chris Keating, CSI Director, said its study suggests that organizations that raise their level of security awareness but warns against complacency in the face of a changing cybercrime threat.

"Individual users are more exposed to computer crime than ever, due to the growth in identity theft schemes. We can't help but note the shift in the survey results toward more financial damage due to theft of sensitive company data. This is an ominous, though not unexpected, development and underscores the need to insist that enterprise networks be properly safeguarded," he said.

The CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey aims to help determine the scope of computer crime along with promoting security awareness. It can be downloaded from the CSI's website GoCSI.com (PDF - registration required). ®

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