Risk
8/30/2005
11:56 AM
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Bad News: Cyber Crimefighters Are Losing The Battle

While sitting in the Knuckles Sports Bar at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Monterey, Calif., watching a jovial group of high-tech crime-fighting experts exchange work-related yarns and engage in the ageless Yankees versus Red Sox debate, a confident feeling came over me. No way were the cyber bad guys gonna get to me here.

While sitting in the Knuckles Sports Bar at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Monterey, Calif., watching a jovial group of high-tech crime-fighting experts exchange work-related yarns and engage in the ageless Yankees versus Red Sox debate, a confident feeling came over me. No way were the cyber bad guys gonna get to me here.Naturally, my sense of security was completely false, since the roomful of law enforcement and IT security talent in front of me wouldn't be able to do squat if, at that very moment, a hacker in Marrakech was siphoning the balance of my 401(k) into a Swiss bank account. No matter--even if my brain knew that the odds of this gathering of high-tech investigators stopping a determined cyberthug from stealing my identity were remote, the reminder that a large group of very smart people is pouring its collective heart and soul into protecting the digital universe made me feel much better.

But make no mistake about it. The 650 or so folks in Monterey for the High-Tech Crime Investigation Association are in complete agreement that the situation is getting worse. For every step forward the good guys take by taking advantage of new technologies, better laws, and evolving investigation techniques, the bad guys take several steps by expanding their global crime networks, monitoring IT system vulnerabilities more closely, and finding additional motivation in the growing economy resulting from fraud and identity theft.

As I walked around the conference, sitting in on classes in which instructors were all but pleading with conference attendees to get their organizations to treat the threat of cybercrime very seriously, it was clear to me there's a sense of urgency. When Louis Reigel, the assistant director of the FBI's cyber division and a self-described optimist, tells me that he doesn't see light at the end of the tunnel, I know it's time to be afraid. Then, when Christopher Painter, one of the top cybercrime experts at the U.S. Department of Justice, actually SAYS it's time to be afraid (as he said to me), perhaps it's time to be VERY afraid.

Whether you're an IT exec, an unsuspecting consumer, or a parent who frets about what your kids are doing online, know this: The high-tech threats you face are growing, not shrinking. Sadly, one here is expecting the battle to swing the other direction any time soon. After all, there's only so much a Knuckles Bar full of cybersleuths can do.

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