The week in security: Cyber criminals go where the money is

If you've ever wondered why cybercrims go to so much trouble to conduct their nefarious business, new statistics should clarify things a bit: in the EU alone, new Europol figures suggest, organised crime groups are making around €1.5 billion ($2b) per year from payment card fraud.

One group, in a similarly expensive venture, is demanding $US50,000 from recruitment firm Drake International to avert the publication of personal information about 300,000 job seekers from Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

These figures and happenings might lend weight to arguments for stricter cybersecurity legislation, with some observers reading the tea leaves after noting that US president Barack Obama's nominee as the new director of the CIA, John Brennan, has been an advocate of such legislation. So, too, is the Business Roundtable, a consortium of US business leaders.

Certainly, authorities are clamping down on payment-card hackers, with a Romanian man sentenced to 21 months' prison after admitting he stole such data from US merchants. But not everyone is enthused about tighter legislation, with some concerned that privacy-focused legislation could stifle mobile innovation. Yet even governments are weighing in on mobile privacy, with California's attorney-general warning that mobile apps should limit the amount of data they collect about users.

One such innovation, for example, is new technology that offers fingerprint recognition on the touch-sensitive screens of smartphones and tablets. Another lies in efforts to deliver single sign-on (SSO) capabilities for cloud services. Hong Kong computer-security experts said the incidence of security incidents in that territory jumped 30% during 2012. Yet even as Iran was accused of cyberwar against the US in a "frightening" turn of events, and the UK government was warned that a major cyber-attack on the country could leave its armed forces "fatally compromised", hackers continued to have their way with major systems.

Some claimed new air traffic control systems would let them take control of flying planes, while one hacker found a way to run desktop Windows applications on the embedded Windows RT operating system. Cisco Systems was working on a fix for a broken VoIP phone patch and Adobe was patching Flash and Acrobat vulnerabilities as well as warning about vulnerabilities in its ColdFusion application server. Developers of Ruby on Rails were pushing new patches to the world, while Oracle geared up to release 86 different security patches and a Windows 7 print flaw was singled out as being crucially important for system administrators.

Java was singled out by security consultants, as yet another exploitable zero-day attack was uncovered and some experts pushed for organisations to disable the technology until it's fixed. The calls for users to disable Java came from as far afield as the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), while one security expert says things with Java have gotten so bad that it's time to start over and rewrite the platform from scratch.

Ongoing application vulnerabilities have some experts pointing out the risks inherent in digital healthcare information and others pointing out the challenges in fixing them. And European security agency ENISA warned that drive-by attacks, Trojans and code injection remained the biggest security threats this year. Fighting them, some warn, will require better collaboration between companies and the government.

Even as privacy advocates were welcoming Yahoo!'s decision to match Google and Microsoft by enabling HTTPS security for its Yahoo Mail services, questions were being raised about the integrity of SSL security certificates. Questions were also being raised about the integrity of McAfee founder John McAfee, who has been embroiled in Central American drama as revelations emerged he had been employing hackers and prostitutes to spy on Belize government authorities. McAfee's story and actions continue to emerge as authorities progressively learn more about the increasingly bizarre case.

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