E-business Profits: Gone with the Criminal?

Viruses are not the only reason why interest in e-business is declining. Hackers and fraudsters are also to blame.

Since the start of 2004, not a single week has passed without the detection of a new virus. Mydoom, Netsky, Bagle, Bizex are far from being the only creations of the computer underground. It gives the sensation that all virus writers are currently at the peak of their creative powers, flooding the Internet with new malicious code. According to estimates issued by Sandvine, a company specialising in P2P network management, between two and 12 percent of all data transmitted is malicious code. Even within relatively secure networks this figure is a worrying five percent.

Sandvine notes that this forces providers to significantly increase resources allocated to combating computer viruses. For example, globally the resources spent on addressing the virus threat amount to $370 million. This sum includes expenditures on dedicated antivirus departments and customer support. Even these measures cannot stop the decline in electronic business. Many major players in the telecom industry are already licking their wounds and estimating the potential losses caused by the departure of clients unhappy with the services provided.

In addition to the tangible losses caused by viruses such as Slammer, Sobig, and Mydoom, providers also have to take into account the losses caused by the tail end of previous virus epidemics, and multiple DoS attacks. "Worms exact a massive toll by forcing service providers to mobilize premium resources in order to quell attacks and protect the subscriber experience," stated a Sandvine representative. "Uncovering the true costs and inefficiencies that worms impose on the broadband sector is crucial if we're going to identify appropriate solutions."

The beginning of the year has already made clear the scale of the losses the telecommunications industry has suffered at the hands of computer viruses. By forcing providers to invest enormous resources in developing and implementing systems to combat malicious code, virus writers are depleting resources which could be used to develop end-user services. Consequently, the entire telecommunications sector of the global economy will suffer, as the attractiveness of the sector as an investment opportunity will be reduced.

However, viruses are not the only reason why interest in e-business is declining. Hackers and fraudsters have also made a significant contribution in this area. A recent case in point is the Australian eBay incident. As a result of increased fraudulent transactions, the police department of New South Wales created a special division to track down the organised group which was exploiting eBay for its own ends. According to the authorities, over the past year more than 600 eBay users have fallen victim to scams. The majority of victims were trying to make major purchases such as laptops, audio equipment, and digital cameras.

At the same time, hackers are increasingly using their skills to commit an ever more popular crime: electronic extortion. A group of cyber-criminals recently gained some notoriety in England for blackmailing the owners of on-line bookmakers. This group of organised criminals from Eastern Europe are threatening to conduct DDos attacks on the bookmakers’ on-line betting systems. These attacks are programmed to happen at a profitable time of year for British bookmakers, when the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the semi-final of the FA Cup, and a number of other prestigious events are scheduled to take place.

Moreover, it was only in autumn of last year that British law-enforcement bodies first acknowledged the existence of on-line racketeering. The main targets for attack have been shopping and auction sites, and on-line casinos.

All the above clearly shows that cyberthreats are having a negative effect of e-business as a whole. Given this, unless appropriate steps are taken on a global scale to punish cybercriminals, e-business is in for a very bad time.

About the Author

Eugene Kaspersky head of Anti-Virus research at Kaspersky Lab. He is a member of the Computer Anti-virus Researchers' Organization (CARO), among whose members are the world's leading anti-virus experts.