Aardvark DailyNew Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 18th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.
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I recall that when I first started using the internet it was an incredibly benign place.
There was no malware to speak of, no adware, no trojans, viruses or worms.
Spam was so rare that it was quite exciting to receive an email from Dave Rhodes promoting the pyramid scheme that was the first drop of the tide that now washes over us every day.
However, as time has passed and ever-greater numbers of regular folk flock to the Net for their information, entertainment, shopping and general communications -- the forces of evilness and malevolence have swooped in and now, it's a decidedly dodgy place to hook into.
Almost every day we read of some new threat to our security.
Whereas the first viruses and worms were pretty much just cyber vandalism and designed to show the world how clever the writer was -- these days it's big, big business, often funded by organised crime.
Those who create these online cyberweapons are not out to show the world that they're smart hackers - they're looking for valuable information which will earn them good hard cash in the real world.
Credit card numbers, login details for online banking services, even email account logins that allow easy identity theft -- they're all tradeable commodities in the online underworld.
As the Net has evolved and its population increased, the threat level has also continued to rise -- to the extent that anyone hooking a computer to cyberspace really needs to have their shields up and their phasers powered.
Even governments are getting in on the game - with it now being widely accepted that some of the most complex and successful malware (such as StuxNet) is the result of significant investments by nations bent on extracting other nations' secrets or ankle-tapping some of their science.
Although anti-virus companies work hard to provide Net users with some measure of protection against all this malware, their efforts are almost entirely reactionary rather than pre-emptive. Until a piece of malware is identified and fingerprinted, it's always possible that it will slide under the radar of your favourite AV system.
So how long before we find that cyberspace becomes just too risky for critical applications such as online banking, online shopping and the like?
With so much to be earned from malware, we can be sure that those writing it will never be short of funding or incentive to raise their game. We also know that no security or AV system can guarantee to be bullet-proof.
While it's true that the Net simply mirrors "the real world(TM)", cybercrime is, in many ways, safer and more lucrative than crime in that real world.
Many of the world's biggest cybercrims operate from former Soviet countries or other locations where policing such activities is far from "rigorous" and immunity from the attentions of those police can be bought. It becomes just another cost of doing business for the criminals.
Using the right malware, these cybercrims can mug you, empty your bank account, steal products from shop shelves and commit all manner of other crimes, without leaving the comfort of their favourite chair -- half a world away from the victims.
Compare that with "real world" crime where someone robbing a bank may face the prospect of being shot, identified on CCTV camera or being apprehended before they even leave the building.
The smart cyber-crim will cover their path by weaving their way through a maze of VPNs, proxy servers and compromised systems whose logs they can obliterate as soon as the job is done. A much safer way to heist your booty me thinks!
So -- what are our chances of keeping cybercrime under control?
Will the crims eventually lift their game to the point where doing anything online that might give them access to your ID, credit card, bank account or whatever -- becomes simply too risky?
And what role will the cloud play?
Might it be that keeping all that valuable data in one place simply makes the cloud an irresistible target for cybercrims?
Could the scale of future heists be so great as to beggar belief -- simply because there will be so very much data stored in one place?
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