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Hackers targeting business secrets

Last updated on: April 1, 2011 12:56 IST

Hackers targeting business secrets

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In the age of smart phones and laptops, intellectual property and business secrets are fast becoming a target for cyber thieves who are specialising in this area, a new study has warned.

Some hackers are starting to specialise in data stolen from corporate networks, according to research compiled by
security firm McAfee.

McAfee said deals were being done for trade secrets, marketing plans, R&D reports and source code.

It urged companies to know who looks after their data as it moves into the cloud or third-party hosting centres.

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Image: Hackers are looking for trade secrets.
Photographs: Reuters
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"Cyber criminals are targeting this information based on what their clients are asking for," BBC quoted Raj Samani, chief technology officer in Europe for McAfee as saying.

He said some business data had always been scooped up when net thieves compromised PCs using viruses and trojans in a search for logins or credit card details.

The difference now was that there exists a ready market for the data they are finding.

In some cases, said Samani, thieves were running campaigns to get at particular companies or certain types of information.

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Image: Hackers are running campaigns to attack a particular company.
Photographs: Reuters
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The McAfee report mentioned cases in Germany, Brazil and Italy in which trade secrets were either stolen by an insider or cyber thieves tried to get hold of via a concerted attack.

In some cases, said the McAfee report, companies made the job of the criminals easier because they did little to censor useful information about a corporate's culture or structure revealed in e-mails and other messages.

Such information could prove key for thieves mounting a "social engineering" in which they pose as employees to
penetrate networks.

The report detailed efforts by firms to watch casual and contract employees and the use of behavioural analysis software to spot anomalous activity on a corporate network.

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Image: Some companies do not take adequate steps.
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Thefts of intellectual property or key documents could be hard to detect, Samani said.

"You may not even know it's stolen because they just take a copy of it," he said.

Defending against these threats was getting harder, he said, because key workers with access to the most valuable information were out and about using mobile devices far from the defences surrounding a corporate HQ.

"Smartphones and laptops have crossed the perimeter," Samani said.

The warning comes in the wake of a series of incidents which reveal how cyber criminals are branching out from their traditional territory of spam and viruses.

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Image: Defending against threats is getting harder.
Photographs: Reuters
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The BBC report noted that 2010 saw the arrival of the Stuxnet virus, which targeted industrial plant equipment and
2011, has been marked by targeted attacks on petrochemical firms, the London Stock Exchange, the European Commission and many others.

Samani said that, as firms start to use cloud-based services to make data easier to get at, they had to work hard to ensure they know who can see that key corporate information.

Otherwise, he warned, in the event of a breach, companies could find themselves losing the trust of customers or attracting the attention of regulators.

"You can transfer the work but you cannot transfer the liability," Samani said.


Image: Cyber criminals can hurt company's reputation.
Photographs: Reuters
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