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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Charles Cooper has covered technology for over 25 years, working with such organizations as PC Week, ZDNet News and now, CNET So you figure he has the right to some opinions on the subject, and his latest is that “Mr. & Mrs. Computer User” has replaced bin Laden as our biggest cyberthreat. We are the ones who “keep goofing up,” as Cooper puts it, quoting the experts from the 2008 RSA conference on information security in San Francisco. He likens the problem to the movie, Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray keeps waking up to the same morning. Which is precisely what is happening with business and government committing the same mistakes every day with our names and private information resulting in a steady stream of data breaches. And the consumer compounds the problem by not taking proper precautions, and remaining apathetic over the state of their privacy. Some RSA conference highlights:

• 65% of the new code being released into the market is malicious
• The U.S. was the top country of attack origin in the second half of 2007
• The education sector accounted for 24 percent of data breaches that could lead to identity theft
• Government was the top sector for identities exposed, accounting for 60 percent of the total
• The United States had the most bot-infected computers worldwide

Much of this we already knew, but it just points out the fact that it has to be said again at major conferences like RSA to an audience that, based on the organization’s findings, won’t be taking their privacy seriously any time soon. “Apathetics” I call them. Symantec’s CEO, John Thompson, confirms what most privacy advocates have known for some time. The fact that rather than an attack on the infrastructure itself, all the attention has now shifted to just getting the personal data any way possible and rushing it to the underground market in private information. As an example, in a Symantec report, bank accounts are the most promoted for sale in this manner, accounting for 22 percent of activity tracked. And Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s appearance at the conference didn’t really add confidence to the possibility there would be any help from the current administration. Cooper sounds skeptical over how many Silicon Valley technologists Chertoff would enlist to come to Washington to work on cyber-security because, as he comments about the Secretary’s department, “Off-the-record interviews with people familiar with the goings-on there have described the situation to me as a bureaucratic mess.” Not that I want to get into politics now, but it is clear that nothing will be done that will enhance consumer privacy until George W. Bush is history. That in itself will be welcomed by many, but, unfortunately, I am not at all sure whoever takes over the Whitehouse and Congress in November will supply the solution the privacy community is looking for.

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