Saturday, September 17th, 2011

AVG (AU/NZ) Pty Ltd, the distributor of the award-winning AVG Internet and mobile security software in Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, has released a new report commissioned by AVG Technologies which reveals how the explosion in size and complexity of global cybercrime, combined with the surprising complacency of younger users, is putting lives at risk.

The report, authored by the research agency The Future Laboratory, reveals that while cyber criminals and malicious programs are becoming increasingly sophisticated and difficult to detect, users are, alarmingly, becoming less vigilant about protecting their online devices. The combination of these two factors presents a potentially disastrous cybercrime scenario.

Also highlighted in the report is the phenomenon of so-called 'wetware', in which the weak link in the security chain is not the technology but rather the human user. The growing risk stems not just from technology (software or hardware) but increasingly from human action (wetware).

Lloyd Borrett, Security Evangelist at AVG (AU/NZ), said, "If the weakest link in the Internet security chain is the person in front of the computer, security experts are now warning that the rise of social networks is leading to a rise in social engineering.

"Just as increased security provision by automotive manufacturers means that to steal a car today you have to steal the keys, with computer systems now capable of being comprehensively protected, the easiest way to get into a home or business computer is now through its owner."

A third of Europeans surveyed by AVG and Future Poll don't update their anti-virus protection. It seems that increasingly cyber criminals are focusing on deceiving the human rather than the machine, fooling the user into downloading and installing malicious software by posing as anti-virus providers or another trusted source. This means of entering a user's computer bypasses the normal security checks and makes the 'wetware' the weakest link.

The key findings of the report were as follows:

  • Cybercrime is on the increase as the tools and tactics which were previously used by hackers to cause disruption to machines and networks have been monetised by criminal gangs through bank fraud and ID theft.

  • Smartphones are no longer just phones, they are mini PCs, and consumers fail to realise that this makes them as vulnerable to cybercrime as a computer. Just 4 percent of French Internet and smartphone users are concerned about smartphone viruses. Money can be taken almost unnoticed through premium rate SMS fraud - a crime which consumers are unlikely to spot.

  • Consumers are aware of the need for anti-virus protection but nearly one in ten of those surveyed fail to keep their protection updated. Alarmingly, the 18-35 age group (often cited as the group which is most digitally aware) is particularly complacent about this.

  • Increasing integration of the Internet into physical systems makes us increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attack. The 'Internet of Things' will soon become part of our connected world, opening new opportunities for hackers to cause harm and havoc.

The author of the report, Dr Antonia Ward of The Future Laboratory, said of the findings, "It's clear that cyber criminals are getting more and more sophisticated, not only in their programming but also in their methods. The idea that they're moving from using weaknesses in the software to attacking the 'wetware' is a disturbing one, and demands that we respond by improving people's awareness of these rogue programs so that they aren't so easily deceived."

JR Smith, CEO of AVG Technologies, said "The potential impact of cybercrime must not be underestimated. After the 2008 financial crisis, the OECD began to re-examine today's potential 'global-shocks'. Alongside the threats you expect - financial crises, pandemics and social unrest - they also included 'cyber risks' for the first time. The British government alone has allocated £63m to fight cybercrime this year.

"It's increasingly evident that each unprotected individual makes us all vulnerable, so it's vital that as a global society we find ways to address this trend and ensure that we are protected together. We're securing people's digital life, or as we like to say: Providing Peace of Mind to the Connected World," he added.

According to the report, the Generation Y users, those who have grown up with an awareness of digital threats, are the most reckless about not protecting themselves. Almost half the UK's 18-35 year olds don't update their anti-virus software. If they continue to behave like this as they grow older and gain more wealth and responsibility, then we could witness a cybercrime disaster affecting not just personal users but also businesses and governments.

Five key threat scenarios identified in the report:

  • Car-hacking - Hackers could take control of your car's door locks, dashboard displays and even its brakes.

  • Jailhouse Rocked - Prisoners could be sprung from jail using only a USB stick.

  • Health Scare - Saboteurs could threaten the wellness technologies we depend on to keep us healthy.

  • Sniffers & Blackouts - Burglars could monitor your activities, then reprogram your home security systems from afar.

  • Grid-Jacking - Scammers and terrorists alike could find opportunities in hacking into the Smart Grid.
Full report: Cybercrime Futures (34 page, PDF)

About the report:

AVG Technologies commissioned The Future Laboratory to develop this white paper. In addition to the qualitative research, it contains quantitative research conducted by Future Poll. Future Poll is the research division of The Future Laboratory, one of Europe's foremost consumer research, trends, insight, forecasting and brand innovation consultancies. Via its online network, LS:N Global, it speaks to 300 clients in 14 lifestyle sectors on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

The survey, conducted online in August 2011, polled the opinions of 7,000 respondents aged 18+ living in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and the UK. Unless otherwise stated, all statistics in this report refer to this survey, and should be credited thereafter as 'Future Poll for AVG Technologies, 2011'.

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