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Putting barriers up against the rising threat in e-Crime

CryptoCard : 23 November, 2009  (Special Report)
Jason Hart of CryptoCard Europe provides some insight into the continuous threat of e-Crime, who can be affected and what Welsh businesses are doing to tackle it
Putting barriers up against the rising threat in e-Crime
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The statistics are frightening. Latest research undertaken on behalf of eCrimeWales shows that 23 per cent of Welsh businesses fell victim to some form of electronic crime last year, with attacks now costing the local economy more than £290 million annually.

The repercussions can be both severe and widespread - from financial loss and interruption of business to theft of valuable data and identity theft. And it does not stop there, as damage to the organisation's reputation can be even more devastating than any direct financial impact.

Yet despite this, there is still an alarming lack of awareness, especially among small businesses, as to the seriousness of e-crime and how it can affect them. Responses range from the 'it will never happen to me', to the 'my anti-virus is enough protection' to 'I can't afford to do anything about it'. Yet in each case this is not only unfounded but leaves the business open to potentially disastrous consequences.

In Wales, a co-ordinated response to tackling the joint issues of education and protection is now in place, backed by funding from the EU. The eCrimeWales initiative, part of the Welsh Assembly Government's Department of Economy and Transport, has brought together representatives of the government, police, large and small businesses and technical experts to develop a comprehensive plan to raise awareness across the Welsh business community.

In addition to the website providing valuable information, Welsh police forces now have dedicated officers with the remit to help business understand and put in place preventative measures to minimise the threat of e-crime. Put simply, this is an extremely valuable initiative, involving many people with vast experience and understanding of the real-world issues facing Welsh businesses.

So what is an e-Crime? It generally refers to a criminal activity where a computer or computer network is 'the source, tool, target or place of a crime'. However, though the online environment in which such illegal acts take place may be new, the types of activity - including fraud, theft, blackmail, forgery or embezzlement - are as old as the hills.

E-Crime is notoriously difficult to detect and punish due to its technical complexity and the fact that the perpetrators can be operating many thousands of miles away. Equally, e-Crime evolves as rapidly as the technology which enables it, which means that no business can afford to rest on its laurels and think that its protection is comprehensive or foolproof. Rather, it must be constantly vigilant in re-evaluating the various protections in place to secure its online activities.

The eCrimeWales team has produced a 12-step plan to ensuring IT security, encompassing such important areas as firewall protection, anti-virus, data back-ups and the particular risks associated with email usage.

However, there are several areas in particular in which Welsh business, like their counterparts worldwide, can have a significant positive impact on their level of security protection without the need for huge expenditure in technology.

The first has nothing to do with IT. A large number of companies, especially small or micro businesses, have no policies or procedures in place to manage and control computer usage within the organisation, yet it is essential for all staff to know their obligations and responsibilities with regard to the security of the company.

Most damage however results from unauthorised access to the network. And today the problem is increasing with the growth in remote working resulting from various regulatory, social, environmental and commercial pressures.

It is now generally recognised that static password protection has become inadequate in the face of highly sophisticated hackers and virus attacks. Yet how many businesses compound this weakness by continuing to use a single password for all online activity, such as one's mother's maiden name, which is easily penetrated?

Two-factor authentication, or (2FA), has emerged to replace static passwords. This strong password security combines 'something you have' (a physical card, soft or SMS-based token which generates a one-time password) with 'something you know' (a PIN), to provide best practice protection against identity theft.

Until recently, the high cost of (2FA) solutions restricted its adoption to larger businesses only. However, with the emergence of hosted, or Password-as-a-Service options, this now brings (2FA) within reach of all businesses, as it removes the need for substantial upfront capital expenditure and in-house IT expertise.

All this should act as a wake-up call. However, with the support of initiatives such as eCrimeWales providing expert support and advice, backed by the rapid evolution of technologies providing secure network access, one thing is clear: in the fight against e-Crime, the individual business is far from alone.
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