Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Broadband growth extends non-PC threats

Broadband internet's growth to include devices beyond the PC will make Australians increasingly vulnerable to a range of net nasties, a report says.

Software security vendor Symantec's Internet Security Threat report for the second half of 2006 has flagged a number of threats on the horizon that extend beyond the home and office network.

David Sykes, Symantec's Australasian vice president, said the proliferation of bots - bits of software that run automated tasks over the net - established by hackers was now extending to other consumer hardware.

While Australia's lagging high-speed internet services have been something of a defence against widespread cyber attacks, new advances in connectivity could herald a new wave of malicious attempts on devices.

Mr Sykes said Australia as a whole had been largely immune to malicious attacks when compared with other nations.

"Quite honestly, it's the fact that our broadband infrastructure and particularly high bandwidth infrastructure is still lagging a little," Mr Sykes said.

"We still have a very high proportion of our internet users who are on dialup and that basically makes a bot utterly useless."

But games consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation, which are able to connect to the internet, are becoming attractive targets for spammers and hackers looking to establish networks of bots.

He said the push forward in third generation mobile technology in Australia presented a new, vulnerable front for consumers with many devices inadequately protected.

Bots can be set up on any piece of hardware to generate spam or malicious code to be sent out across the network.

The report said the growth of bots had helped establish a large infrastructure network that was able to support a widespread black trade in credit card numbers and identity theft.

With faster and smarter mobile devices now able to perform a wider range of functions such as email, browsing and file download, the pick-up in traffic is expected to carry more bits of nasty software with it.

"We are already seeing spam and phishing attacks moving to SMS (short message service) and MMS (multimedia messaging service)," he said.

"Again, these classic 'pump-and-dump' stock scams are turning up on people's mobile SMS."

Home users remain especially vulnerable to attack.

"The classic is you're at home, you've gone to bed, you've left your computer with the broadband on overnight," Mr Sykes said.

"It's got a bot on it and it gets used to send spam or distributed denial of service."

A separate study from antivirus group McAfee released recently found 74 per cent of internet users had security software that was regularly updated.

Thirteen per cent had security software but only updated it from time to time, while four per cent rarely updated.

Two per cent did not have security software on their home computer.

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