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Cyber security poses threats and opportunities

22 July 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Friday, April 10, 2009

Your Twitter account could be used for terrorism. Your cell phone could give away your bank account numbers. And your computer could lead to millions of dollars in lost business.

Cyber security is one of the biggest issues facing the country, businesses and families, according to experts who spoke at a forum organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

More than 100 people attended the event, held Friday at San Diego State University.

“Cyber security is going to be one of the biggest greatest concerns of the 21st century,” said Stephen Weber, president, SDSU. “San Diego has the opportunity to affect the nation in this area.”

Technology has become so mobile, criminals can hack into systems anywhere, through cell phones, gaming consoles, computers and software. This enables them to steal information, disable entire offices or prey on young children.

At the same time, the opportunity for businesses to enter or expand in the cyber security industry is great. The federal government allotted $7 billion to $12 billion to beef up the nation’s cyber security in the next several years, said Matthew Eggers, manager of U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Much of those funds will go to private technology companies working in the cyber security field. In San Diego, more than 100 companies worth “hundreds of millions of dollars” in contracts work in this area, said Michael Jones, president of The Security Network, a San Diego-based non-profit for the defense industry.

The exact figures are not available due to the classified nature of many contracts, he said. But San Diego’s strategic role in the U.S. Navy and concentration of high-tech companies makes it a heavy player in the cyber security industry. It is one of the industries expected to expand rapidly in the coming years, Jones said.

The experts said the areas of greatest threat are:

– cyber terrorism
– cyber spying
– cyber crimes.

International terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda, have been moving very aggressively in developing Internet weapons, said Matthew Bettenhausen, director of the California Office of Homeland Security.

Criminals along the Mexican-U.S border have also been using cell phones as computers, said Eric Frost, an associate professor SDSU.

“They are driven by technology that is dramatically ahead of us,” Frost said. Criminals also use cyber spying to steal information. Computer hackers break into systems and take information off databases.

Cyber crime is one of the fastest growing areas for law enforcement, said government directors attending the event. “Revenue from cyber crimes has surpassed revenue from drug crimes,” said Mark Weatherford, director of the California Office of Information security and Privacy Protection. “Criminals go where the money is.”

One of the biggest cases involved a criminal ring based in San Diego, which was prosecuted here, said Karen Hewitt, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. In the case involving TJX Companies, criminals stole 45 million customers’ credit card records to sell on the black market by tapping the company’s wireless network.

Heartland Payment Systems, the fifth-largest credit-card processing company, was also hit by malware that took information off their system. The company handled some 100 million credit card accounts per month. “Because of the malicious software, they had quite possibly the largest security breach ever in the U.S. history,” said Jeff Debrosse, research director, ESET, a security software company.

Child predators are also increasingly moving online, said William Lansdowne, police chief of City of San Diego. Many parents do not realize that criminals are befriending their children through computers, cell phones and even gaming consoles, so education is a key issue.

Criminal intent is the greatest threat of all, experts said. “The weakest link is the eighth layer – the human layer,” said ESET’s Debrosse, referring to the seven layers of network architecture.


How to protect yourself from cyber crimes:

– Change your passwords and log-ins regularly.

– Back up everything.

– Use firewalls, anti-virus systems, and security technology.

– Beware of disgruntled employees, who can sabotage your systems.

– Create accountability on your networks.

– Track and analyze the flow of data.

– Educate your children about strangers on the Web.

Technology facts:

– The world has 1 billion computers.

– It has 4 billion cell phones, most of which serve as mini-computers.

– SDSU’s computers receive 300,000 attacks per hour.

– Protesters in Moldavia, Russia, used Twitter and Facebook to organize uprisings, aided by 10,000 followers on one Twitter account

– In one day, Facebook took down profiles of 90,000 users considered predators.

(Source: Eric Frost, associate professor, SDSU)

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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