New McAfee report reflects on the past, present and future of cybercrime

Jan 25, 2011 5:04pm

By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director

McAfee (an NCSA board member company), has just released a report entitled “A Good Decade for Cybercrime: McAfee’s Look Back at Ten Years of Cybercrime.” The report reveals that despite improved security efforts, cybercrime increased exponentially between 2000 and 2010. Cybercrooks have gotten smarter, more sophisticated, and more discrete. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the cost of cybercrime to consumers doubled between 2008 and 2009, totaling $560 million in the U.S. alone. In addition, cybercrime complaints from consumers swelled by 22%.

McAfee’s report breaks down cybercrime over the decade by illustrating the trends year by year. It states that back in the early 2000s, spam emails were a popular method of cybercrime. The infamous “I love you” worm of 2000 launched its attack in the form of a spam email with “I love you” as the subject line. An attachment, claiming to be a love letter, intrigued tens of millions of Windows users, who were infected with a worm as a result of opening it.

The report describes the mid-2000s as a time when adware and spyware became more common forms of hacking. These methods lure consumers into buying products or services from cybercrooks, who can then obtain the consumer’s personal information while also making a monetary profit. Subsequently, many infected computers become part of a botnet, a collection of computers that are contaminated with malware and automatically pass it on to other computers without the owner’s knowledge.

According to McAfee, the late 2000s saw cybercriminals started banding together and using more discrete methods of attack, such as exploiting application vulnerabilities before they could be fixed. With the explosion of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, hackers now find it much easier to access personal information and use it to their advantage. In 2010, McAfee identified nearly 60,000 new pieces of malware every day, many on social networking sites. Online activism will also likely be a form of cyber incident in the future as we witnessed with WikiLeaks when “hacktivists” launched attacks on the websites of organizations that opposed WikiLeaks.

So what does the future of cybercrime look like as we enter a new decade? According to McAfee, online scams will likely get more sophisticated as people continue sharing personal information over the Web. They predict the next ten years will bring more malicious links, phony friend requests, and phishing attempts. McAfee also reports that mobile threats are rapidly on the rise. Smart phone applications provide a window for cybercrooks to steal huge amounts of personal and financial information.

Although these findings may point to risks, we can make our online experience more secure and more positive by employing STOP. THINK. CONNECT. Some specific NCSA tips and advice include:

  • Keep security software current, including your anti-virus software, anti-virus software and firewall. Having the latest security suite, web browser and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats. According to the 2010 NCSA / Norton by Symantec Online Safety Study, only 58% of respondents said they had a full security suite (anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and a firewall). When the NCSA actually scanned the respondents’ computers for the software, we discovered that only 37% were full protected.
  • Protect your personal information. Own your online presence and try to limit the amount of personal data that you share. McAfee found that in the past two years, “7 million U.S. consumers – or 1 in 13 households – admitted to giving out personal information to phishers.”