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Lost laptops, zero-day vulns and RFID chips

The year in information security

Reducing security risks from open source software

2006 in review If 2006 had an information security epitaph it would probably be the year of the missing laptop.

Security breaches that resulted in the disclosure of confidential data, already a trend in recent years, grew alarmingly - to the point where security watchers noted that 100 million personal records had been compromised in the period between February 2005, when ChoicePoint admitted that ID thieves had swiped information on 163,000 victims from its database, and December 2006 in the US alone.

Notable breaches this year included laptops stolen from Ernst & Young and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The issue has probably been a problem for years, but was only revealed because of the requirements of California's information security breach disclosure laws, passed in 2003, which have acted as a template for similar legislation across many US states.

The year also saw a number of high-profile cybercrime prosecutions, including attempts to extradite UFO-enthusiast and alleged Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon to the US.

Spychips

The inclusion of RFID chips in next-generation US passports sparked a wave of security concerns. Security researchers were quick to demonstrate the ease by which these chips might be either cloned or read.

Lack of adequate security precautions, such as encryption, also proved to be an issue for "contactless" credit cards that also incorporate RFID technology.

Step aside Master S'kiddie, and leave malware to the professionals

On other fronts, the last 12 months continued the trend of for-profit cybercrime becoming a primary driver for the creation of computer malware. According to Finnish anti-virus firm F-Secure, at the start of 2007 there will be at least 250,000 known PC viruses.

Targeted Trojan attacks - as opposed to high profile computer worm outbreaks - have become the norm. Many of these attacks targeted unpatched (so-called zero-day) vulnerabilities in browsers and enterprise applications. Perhaps inevitably, Microsoft applications, particularly Internet Explorer and Word, were a major focus of these attacks but other vendors were dragged into the mess as the number of unpatched enterprise applications mushroomed. Many of these attacks used backdoors, booby trapped document files and rootkits.

Mobile malware continued to make the news, despite barely featuring in reports compiled by firms providing support to mobile phone users. New mobile malware, and that adapted from existing code, both created concern, if not many reports of infection.

The growing prominence of social networking sites proved a powerful lure for hackers, as exemplified by an attack by a JavaScript worm on MySpace in December.

Meanwhile, scripting exploits allowed hackers to swamp Second Life with Sonic The Hedgehog-style gold rings in November. The so-called grey-goo attack forced Linden Labs to take Sadville offline for a short time to clean up the mess.

Hasta la Vista, baby

Microsoft continued to bolster its effort to improve the security of Windows machines, notably with the forthcoming release of Windows Vista, as it pushed its efforts to gain revenue from the computer security market it's arguably been instrumental in creating.

These efforts didn't go unopposed. Both McAfee and Symantec cried foul over kernel protection measures that they claimed frustrated their development efforts. Probably on the basis that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, security vendors such as Sophos and Kaspersky waded in on Microsoft's behalf.

Spamalot

Spam continued to be an irritant. A number of high profile prosecutions under, for example the US's CAN-SPAM Act, failed to have much of an impact on the junk mail volumes flowing into users' inboxes. Spamming is simply too profitable and junk mail scumbags are too devious to completely disappear.

In an alarming development, a rogue spammer managed to force anti-spam firm Blue Security into disbanding in May.

Scam emails popped up this year that posed as "security check" emails from well-known businesses. Fraudsters used these so-called phishing emails to try and trick users int

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