Basics on protecting an organization against hackers

Thursday, 8 January 2004, 9:48 AM EST

Even before the Internet, computer security was a problem. In the 1986 movie War Games, we saw a young Matthew Broderick hacking his way into the computer that controls the U.S.' nuclear command and control. Today's hackers are the phone freakers of the 1980s, emulating telephone noises to obtain free long-distance calls. Viruses and worms have been part of the background noise of cyberspace since its earliest days. So what's new?

Well, the numbers tell the tale. In 2000, there were 21,000 reported virus incidents. Three years later, the number was more than six times higher. In 2002, the worldwide cost of worms and viruses was estimated at $45 billion; August 2003 alone saw costs of almost the same magnitude, while the annual cost will rise 300% year over year. Twenty-seven million Americans have been the victims of identity theft in the past five years, but one-third of that total were victimized in the past 12 months. Patches to correct the kind of commercial-software vulnerabilities that hackers target most frequently were once issued at a rate of maybe 10 per month. In 2002, they appeared at a rate of dozens per week. And in 2003, worms that used to take several days to travel around the globe spread to more than 300,000 systems on six continents in less than 15 minutes from launch.

By Richard Clarke and Lee Zeichner at Security Pipeline.

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