2000 Roundup: Cybercrime goes global

2000 showed just what damage cybercrime can do. It is now a global problem

In February, computer hackers demonstrated that even the biggest Internet companies remain vulnerable to basic forms of attack, combining an age-old denial of service technique with new tools to cripple CNN, Amazon, eBay and Yahoo!.

In the space of a few short hours these attacks illustrated that computer security is fast becoming one of the most important issues around. The FBI were quick to see the importance of being on top of the issue and swiftly launched a worldwide manhunt for the vandals behind the attacks.

Sensing growing disquiet, US president Bill Clinton waded into the foray, calling for a global summit on cybercrime. Insurance firms, never ones to miss out on an opportunity, also jumped on the cybercrime bandwagon by offering hacking insurance to companies shaken by the upsurge in high-profile hack attacks.

Just a short while later, March saw the year's most dramatic impact on the Internet, when the LoveBug crash landed. The LoveBug made Melissa look like an chain-letter, sweeping across the world with a voracious appetite for destruction and damage. The virus was not especially clever. Nor was its creator hard to track down. The complexity of launching an international investigation and prosecuting the suspect from abroad, however, showed drastic weaknesses in the international cooperation on cybercrime.

Ironically, around the same time the world's most famous computer hacker was released from prison. Kevin Mitnick, famously banned from touching a computer for his high-tech crimes, has since turned into a popular lecturer, columnist and consultant on computer security.

Also in March, the UK's head of Internet policy, e-minister Patricia Hewitt stressed her own concern over the dangers of computer crime, revealing details of a damning Department of Trade and Industry report into high-tech break-ins at UK firms.

Other countries agreed and in May the G8 nations held a conference on cybercrime in Paris. The Council of Europe also met to discuss the creation of a worldwide treaty to combat computer crime. World leaders were unanimous in their calls for a unifying policy that would close off "hacker havens" for computer criminals. It has not, however, been plain sailing for these plans.

Draft proposals drawn up by the Council of Europe have come in for considerable criticism. Civil rights groups claim the plans could contravene the European declaration of human rights by establishing intrusive surveillance powers and security professionals worry that such a treaty could restrict the tools they can use.

You could be forgiven for getting a distinctly paranoid feeling about the security surrounding many UK companies as the year progressed. Over the summer, some of the UK's biggest high street names suffered embarassing security mishaps including Barclays, Powergen and even dear old Woolworths.

Britain's most politically-minded Web page cracker Herbless began his own reign of terror that saw many well known sites struck down with this cracker's distinctive political perspective. Government sites were defaced in a campaign against the government's policy on smoking and bank sites were chosen as a soapbox to attack government fuel taxation.

With computer crime costing businesses billions every year, the stakes have never been higher for criminals, who face lengthy jail terms for their misdeeds. Herbless soon saw the "error of his ways" and, realising the risk of getting caught, opted for a more anonymous life as a legitimate security analyst.

The year's third most dramatic security scandal struck in October, when the world's most powerful computer company Microsoft revealed details of a break in and said the culprits could have stolen the precious source code used to build its software. A furious round of public relations from Microsoft followed in which it claimed that the break in was not so serious after all. The culprits are, however, yet to be found.

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