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‘Wetware’ disaster looms for Net users

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A report commissioned by Internet security company AVG has revealed that the increase of global cyber crime, coupled with Internet users between the ages of 18-35 being to trusting and relying to heavily on technology to protect them is in fact putting their lives at risk.

A new report commissioned by the internet security company AVG reveals how the explosion in size and complexity of global cyber crime, 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 cybercriminals 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).

A third of Europeans surveyed by AVG and Future Poll don’t update their antivirus 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 monetized by criminal gangs through bank fraud and ID theft.

– Smartphones are no longer just phones, they are mini PCs, and consumers fail to realize that this makes them as vulnerable to cybercrime as a computer. Just 4% 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 antivirus 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 cybercriminals are getting more and more sophisticated, not only in their programming but also in their methods. The idea that they’re moving from utilizing 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 cyber-crime 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.‚ added Smith.

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 antivirus 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.

5 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.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @gadgetza

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