50 Percent Rise In ‘Zombie’ Computers

Anti-virus software and computer protection company, McAfee, found that millions of computers have been taken over by cyber criminals since January.

The report found a 50% increase in the number of detected so-called “zombie” computers since 2008. This number is likely to be realistically much higher than McAfee is able to determine alone.

A zombie computer is a computer with Internet access that has been compromised by a hacker, a computer virus, or a trojan horse. A compromised machine is usually only one of many in a botnet (a collection of software robots), and will be used to perform malicious tasks under remote direction. The majority of zombie computer owners are oblivious to the fact that their system is being undermined in this way.

These figures shown in a report from Deloitte say indicate that a global response to cyber security is desperately needed.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” said Mr. Pellegrino of Global public sector industry leader at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (DDT).

He warned everything that relies on cyberspace is encountering unprecedented risks.

Pellegrino explains, “This issue is moving so quickly, and with so much at stake economically and in terms of safety and security for people, we don’t have 100 years to figure this out.”

McAfee also reported that the United States now has the world’s largest percentage of infected computers at 18% with China not too far behind with just over 13%.

Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee says, “The massive expansion of these bot-nets provides cyber criminals with the infrastructure they need to flood the web with malware.”

“Essentially, this is cyber crime enablement.”

The DTT findings reveal a growing awareness of the importance of the Internet in so many varying aspects of our lives such as security, commerce, transportation and communication.

“We are seeing this change from protecting the Internet to a conversation about how we succeed and prosper in cyberspace,” Mr. Pellegrino noted.

“Security spending is growing at a rate never seen before while the threat environment is growing at a pace of 40% a year.”

Pellegrino continued to say, “In terms of volume and severity of incidents, the math doesn’t work and we have to come up with a different approach that requires public and private sectors working together.”

Fellow author Gary McAlum, who is a retired US air force colonel and senior manager of security and privacy services at Deloitte added, “We are talking about daily living.”

“There is a lot of discussion about the economy and the military and the public and private sector, but we have now reached a sense of urgency about the interconnectedness of all these areas.”

That view was reaffirmed by a member of the US military top brass who just provided evidence to a branch of the House Armed Services Committee.

“Our economy, the nation’s critical infrastructure, and many of our military operations depend on unfettered access to cyberspace,” contributed Lieutenant General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA) who heads the Pentagon’s new Cyber Command.

“Maintaining freedom of action in cyberspace in the 21st century is as inherent to US interests as freedom of the seas was in the 19th century, and access to air and space in the 20th century.”

He is urging the U.S to reorganize its offensive and defensive cyber operations by creating a digital warfare force of some kind.

The Deloitte study involved many interviews conducted with government officials and industry experts from around the world, which revealed that this issue is gaining global prominence.

Pellegrino expressed that his group was very pleased to see that the concern, awareness and recognition of need for leadership was ubiquitous among the various nations.

U.S President Obama has made the issue of cyber-security a top priority. He ordered a 60-day review that has now been delivered to his desk shortly after taking office. 

Though the review has been delayed in its release due to the swine flu crisis, it is expected that the president will announce whom he will choose to lead the cyber-security efforts when the report is made public.

According to the Deloitte research, the United Kingdom is in the process of writing a national cyber strategy with an emphasis on public-private partnership.

On the continent, the European Commission has urged member states to work together on cyber-security measures while Latin America reportedly has a “diversity of approaches.”

Canada has now completed its cyber-security review and will be implementing the National Cyber Security Strategy as well as creating a new Directorate of Cyber Security with a mandate to engage closely with the private sector this year.

Even with all these initial efforts, the Deloitte authors remind that the issue is urgent and that time is running out.

“Not only do we have to take action, we don’t have enough time,” warned Mr. Pellegrino.
Mr. McAlum agreed adding that devising a clear strategy and acting swiftly is crucial.

“We need to get our house in order first so that we can interact with the rest of the world with one voice, with clear roles and responsibilities aligned.”

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