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Phones next as hackers hike up invasion

Patrick Kingsley (SMH) | June 18, 2011
As hacking evolves and attacks become more sophisticated, the threat continues to escalate.

Are all three categories really on the rise? Well, possibly. Disclosure laws obliging companies to come clean about data breaches have been in place in many parts of the US for several years. But, when Google went public last year with the news it had been hacked by Chinese sources, ''that got the ball rolling'', Clemente said. ''It suddenly seemed more permissible to report a hack.''

If increased openness in part accounts for the apparent hike in hacking, there has still been an exponential rise in cyber threats. In 2008, security giant Symantec counted 120 million malware variants; last year, that figure was 286 million. Symantec security strategist Sian John has also noted a large increase in ''targeted attacks''. Hackers are using a new tackle called ''spear phishing'', which enables them to be more specific about who they target. ''In the past, if you got a phish attack, it would be from a Nigerian offering you lots of money,'' said John. ''Now it'll be from someone saying: 'Oh, we saw you at that conference last week. Here's some minutes of that conference'.'' Contained within those minutes will be a virus.

This kind of targeted attack has become dangerous because of the amount of information we divulge on the internet. ''One of the first places a hacker will visit is LinkedIn,'' said Rik Ferguson, director of security research at computer protection firm, Trend Micro. ''[There] you can see all my connections, see everyone I've worked with, everyone I know … I'm far more likely to open an attachment from your email, because it's far more credible.''

However, the arrival of groups such as Anonymous and its offshoot LulzSec does mark a changing of the guard. ''Hacktivism is definitely on the rise,'' said Ferguson. ''Anonymous were previously quite a cliquey underground community. But as the WikiLeaks thing unfolded … they have garnered a lot of coverage.''

The anarchist collective Deterritorial Support Group recently posted an essay ''Twenty Reasons Why it's Kicking Off in Cyberspace'', which aimed to explain the rise of Anonymous and Lulz. ''Make no mistake, this is not a minor struggle between state nerds and rogue geeks,'' they wrote. ''This is the battlefield of the 21st century, with the terms and conditions of war being configured before our very eyes.''

It is tempting to think of this kind of debate as irrelevant to our everyday lives. Symantec says mobile phone technologies will be hacking's next target, and perhaps it is physical problems such as this that we should be more concerned about. But as we increasingly live more of our lives online, and as that boundary between physical and virtual is increasingly blurred, perhaps it is the conceptual questions posed by hacking that will prove more significant.

Guardian News & Media



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