2006: The year in security

Though internet-crippling virus attacks now seem to be a thing of the past, PC users didn't have reason to feel a lot more secure in 2006.

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Though internet-crippling virus attacks now seem to be a thing of the past, PC users didn't have reason to feel a lot more secure in 2006. That's because online attacks have become more sneaky and professional, as a new breed of financially motivated cyber criminals has emerged as enemy number one.

Microsoft patched more bugs than ever and whole new classes of flaws were discovered in kernel-level drivers, office suites and on widely used websites. Vendors' chatter about security is at an all-time high, but the bad guys are still finding lots of places to attack.

And, oh yes, spam is back.

Following are five of the top computer security stories in 2006.

Cybercrime dividends

Hackers teamed with professional criminal gangs in increasingly sophisticated computer crime operations aimed purely for profit.

Much of the trouble centred on phishing, a type of attack where fake web pages are constructed or email are sent to harvest log-in details, credit card numbers or other personal information. Credit card numbers are often sold online to others for illicit gain.

In May, 20,000 phishing complaints were reported, a 34% increase over the previous year, according to US Department of Justice report. It said the US hosts the largest percentage of phishing sites. And in the UK payments association, APACS reported last month this type of fraud led to an online banking loss of £22.5m or an increase of 55% year-on-year during the first six months.

But law enforcement agencies are getting more organised and cooperating better, particularly in international investigations. At least 45 countries participate in the G8 24/7 High Tech Crime Network, which requires nations to have a contact available 24 hours a day to aid in quickly securing electronic evidence for trans-border cybercrime investigations.

The private sector has also helped. Microsoft filed dozens of civil suits and gave information to law enforcement for criminal cases in Europe, the Middle East and US against alleged phishers throughout 2006.

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