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Global gov's shrugging lets cybercrims frolic

Sex and drugs and Rickrolling in Madrid

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Comment Someone will have to die before governments take cybercrime as seriously as they take digital piracy, a panel on cybercrime and internet security was told last week.

US-based investigative journalists met local industry representatives for a debate in Madrid last Thursday evening.

Brian Krebs, investigative journalist and former editor of the Washington Post SecurityFix blog was joined by Joseph Menn, journalist for Financial Times USA and author of the newly released cyber-crime book Fatal System Error to debate the state of internet security. The panel session also included this writer, as a representative of El Reg, as one of a group of ten panelists.

Krebs, whose work was instrumental in leading to the takedown of rogue ISP McColo in 2008, and later in illustrating the dangers of corporate ID theft, compared the cybercrime economy to the drug trade during his 15-minute opening presentation. Menn backed up this analysis, adding that the most serious cybercrooks are protected by some of the largest governments in the world.

As a former crime reporter I pointed out what I saw as the limitations of the cybercrime and drug trade analogy. The drug trade dwarfs the cybercrime economy in terms of revenue (despite what McAfee may say, I've never been convinced of the $1trn a year figure) and in terms of the misery it creates, especially at street level.

Both Menn and Krebs said user education has a part to play in improving information security, but that something more radical was needed. Menn argued that it did little good to beat up on users; what was needed, he suggested, was a fundamental re-engineering of the internet to set up secure protocols for online transactions while relegating TCP to web browsing.

Few of the panelists thought government regulation could do much to improve web security, especially since the issue was very low down on the political agenda of most politicians.

"Someone would have to die" for politicians to draft comprehensive web security regulations, Krebs argued.

As things stand the authorities are far more concerned with illicit music trading than cybercrime websites, Krebs noted.

"The US has laws requiring ISPs to close a web page within 48 hours if it hosts pirated music and video. The same should be applied to cybercrime, but isn't," Krebs said.

Menn, meanwhile, said that no new privacy regulations had been applied in the States since the 1970s.

Baked-in security

The fiercest exchanges during the debate came beween Yago Jesus, security expert and member of securitybydefault.com, and IT lawyer Paloma Llaneza. Jesus argued that vendors ought to be responsible for supplying secure systems. He criticised the fact that software is the only product that does not come with a guarantee.

Llaneza countered that this was a deeply ingrained practice, reflecting the huge effort taken towards developing new operating system components and applications.

If users were allowed to sue for defective software, the price would rocket, Llaneza argued. She also pointed out that the international nature of software firms makes such lawsuits impractical.

Jesus argued spiritedly against these points and dismissed the possibility that user education offered any hope of improving security. He pointed out years of government advice had done little to reduce the prevalence of smoking, an observation that is particularly true of Spain.

Around 200 security bloggers, consultants and internet businesspeople attended the second edition of the Security Blogger Summit. The previous event featured Bruce Schneier as keynote speaker. Both events were sponsored by Spanish anti-virus firm Panda Security.

Afterwards there was a consensus that it was a worthwhile networking event, but the football team sized panel was too big. Holding two panels during the two-hour event and allowing the keynote speakers more time to present were suggested as possible ways to improve the event. ®

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