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Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Cybercrime threat 'real and growing'
Love Bug suspect
Suspects in the Love Bug virus case could not be charged under existing Philippine laws
By BBC News Online's Matt Maclean

The head of an FBI agency has called for closer co-operation between businesses and governments to counter the threat of cybercrime.

Michael Vatis, director of the US National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), said the threat of crime using the internet was real and growing.

Speaking at the World E-Commerce Forum in London, he described an "array of threats" to e-commerce and society in general.

The NIPC is responsible for assessing and investigating threats to the USA's critical infrastructures, including electronic threats. It issues warnings to businesses when computer viruses in circulation or likely corporate targets are identified.

Bad guys can get access to your system remotely from anywhere in the world

Michael Vatis, NIPC
Mr Vatis said the online environment provided many new opportunities, but warned: "The downside is that bad guys can get access to your system remotely from anywhere in the world."

He said the tools of cybercrime were "increasingly sophisticated and available to anyone who can access the internet".

Businesses and even governments were at risk of attack, he said.

"Even if you have the greatest security possible and you think you are sitting pretty, if the electrical power company that provides your power is knocked out, you are not going to be able to engage in business.

"Your security is dependent on all those down-line providers that you rely on."

Information warfare

Many electronic attacks on businesses came from disgruntled ex-employees, he said, but hackers and virus writers also posed a threat.

So-called hacktivists, who engage in hacking for the purpose of sending a political message, were another problem.

He also listed economic espionage and organised crime as real threats, warning that many criminal groups were turning to hacking as a tool for illicit financial gain "in a big way".

Demonstrators against WTO Seattle meeting
World Trade Organisation websites were attacked by "hacktivists" last year
Terrorists, who might wish to "intimidate or coerce" a government or business, could threaten to reveal sensitive information gained electronically or disrupt essential services.

There is also the threat of information warfare - attacking a nation, or making them lose their appetite for war, by disrupting essential services and industries by controlling and manipulating information across computer networks.

"The number one priority is to investigate the state of security on the internet," said Mr Vatis.

He said security was the responsibility of each company.

"Companies need to get the best security in place but also need to work together. We have seen a rush of products to the market with new features, and security is usually an afterthought."

Rapid response

He said companies were starting to take the message on board and there was a "blossoming new industry dedicated to selling security products".

But he warned: "We still have a long way to go."

He also urged closer co-operation between companies and governments in tackling cybercrime.

We do not havens around the world where criminals know they can act with impunity

Michael Vatis, NIPC
"[NIPC's] principle need is to get threat information, and the best source of that is private companies."

But governments needed to work together and put appropriate laws in place to ensure a rapid and effective response to cybercrime, he said.

"We cannot do this alone. If we have an investigation that leads us abroad, we are dependent on our foreign counterparts.

"We do not want to create a situation where there are safe havens around the world where criminals know they can act with impunity."

Early warning

Conference organiser David Rose summed up the growing problem, saying: "In the 10 years up until last year there were 34,000 hacking incidents, and this year alone there have been 50,000."

But delegates from the world of e-commerce attending the conference stopped short of endorsing a sole global agency responsible for policing cybercrime.

Widely regarded as unworkable, as every single country would have to accept such a proposal for it to be effective, delegates voted almost unanimously against the idea.

The UK Government announced in July it would be setting up an agency dedicated to fighting cybercrime.

The new unit is due to start work in April 2001 and will co-ordinate work done by Customs and Excise, the National Criminal Intelligence Unit and National Crime Squad.

British businesses have also set up an early warning system to protect against viruses.

The Enterprise Virus Alert Community (Evac) informs member companies when one of the group gets hit by a computer virus.

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See also:

22 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Watching the web for viruses
07 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Crackdown on computer criminals
30 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Interpol patrols the web
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