Threat of a Bullet in the Face Keeps Cybercrooks Cautious

Scott Borg, director of a cybersecurity research institute, kicked off the SecureWorld Expo Boston with an uplifting talk about the end of the cybersecurity world as we know it. Sure, more sophisticated threats are on the way, but those in cybersecurity also have new opportunities to defend threats and even enable economic growth.

But it was the head of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit's take on why cybercriminals are actually more conservative than you might think that got the biggest reaction from the audience of IT security industry professionals. In fact, Borg say his organization has sometimes been off on its predictions because cybercrime trends have taken longer to emerge than expected.

"If you are an ordinary business and you lose $1 million you shrug it off and hope you do better next time," he says. "If you're working for a criminal organization and you lose $1 million of that organization's money you're going to vey nervous because you have to worry about someone putting a bullet in your face. This really discourages innovation."

It often takes an upstart cybercrime outfit in a remote part of the world to start new threats.

BACKGROUND: What is an advanced persistent threat anyway?

Borg says the hot threat of late has been advanced persistent threats (APT) or what he calls advanced persistent malware. "Over the last year and a half advanced persistent threats have been everyone's excuse for screwing up in cybersecurity… the cyber equivalent of the dog ate my homework," he says.

Borg says it's the malware lurking in the background from these attacks that is truly scary. "Right now advanced persistent malware is very expensive to right and is not being produced by very many organizations, but it is getting cheaper, it's going to get modularized and mass produced," he says.

The main theme of Borg's talk was to encourage information security pros to embrace the opportunities they have to support changes enabled by information capabilities, such as smart grids, adaptable products, mobile enterprise applications and remote applications of expertise. Security threats are one of the main things holding back changes like these from becoming ubiquitous sooner, he says.

And he warns that motives for attackers are evolving rapidly as cybercrooks see opportunities to steal valuable intellectual property and other information at the heart of the worldwide economy. In addition, he says that some people and organizations slide into cybercrime accidentally, as the line between doing legitimate research on the web can easily slide into cybercrime.

“The big business opportunity for attackers is the ability to use cyberattacks to manipulate markets," Borg says, noting such attacks have already taken place and cost companies in the financial industry tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. "If you can cause an economically significant event [such as in a commodities market] there is a way to make a huge profit."

Bob Brown tracks network research in his Alpha Doggs blog and Facebook page, as well on Twitter and Google +.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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