Could SA lead cyber crime rankings?

The connectivity of a country is often related to its vulnerability to cyber crime, say security firms.
South Africa could be the next country to lead the cyber crime rankings.
An increase in broadband speeds is directly proportional to a spike in cyber crime, according to Symantec’s annual Internet Security Threat Report.
“Fast increasing broadband penetration such as we are seeing locally can be dangerous, as many South African companies are not security-savvy enough to be able to thwart attacks successfully,” says Gordon Love, regional director for Africa at Symantec.
“Newly-connected computers that are unprotected will be rapidly compromised and used to launch attacks on other computer systems across the globe,” he adds.
Love cites analyst firm World Wide Worx’s Internet Access in SA 2008 report, which predicts the arrival of the Seacom undersea cable will increase SA’s maximum international bandwidth 50-fold.
The firm says this could in turn see millions of new users connecting to the Internet via unprotected devices. “South Africa’s Internet population is expected to grow as much in the next five years as it has in the 15 years since the Internet became commercially available in SA.”
Connectivity concerns
Costin Raiu, chief security expert, Kaspersky Lab EEMEA Global Research and Analysis Team, says: “Experience seems to indicate there is indeed a link between the connectivity of a country and its subjectivity to cyber crime.”
He cites 2003, when the Slammer worm hit, as an example. “South Korea was one of the most severely affected countries. This happened because most of the people there had very high-speed Internet links at home, something only common to countries a few years later.
“In addition, there seems to be a link between the Internet speed and software piracy rate. In countries that are both poor and where Internet is cheap, people can download pirate software from the Internet, together with movies and music. These are between the most successful attack vectors for malware.”
Brett Myroff, CEO of Sophos SA, says just because SA has a 50-fold increase in bandwidth, does not necessarily mean the masses will have access to this bandwidth due to caps and cost.
“However, although an increase in broadband penetration is not dangerous, it does mean that there could be an increase in cyber crime due to the fact that there will be more connections and therefore opportunities to be exploited.”
Love says there’s no doubt there will be a dramatic upsurge in cyber crime once faster broadband speeds come to the country, and the prices come down.
“South Africa currently has a relatively small Internet population due to the historically high broadband prices, but this is all set to change. Millions of new people and new devices are going to be connecting to the Internet as prices tumble and capacity booms, few of which will be properly prepared for the barrage of Trojans, viruses, worms and hacks.”
From a business point of view, Raiu says that higher Internet speeds equate to more data being vulnerable to theft. “Over a slow Internet link, it might have taken days to transfer even one 1GB of stolen data, but with fibre optics, the same can happen in minutes. Generally, the faster the link, the higher the amount of threats that might come.”
As for preparing, Raiu says it is important that people become aware of these risks and take a few basic steps to protect themselves. “Install and run a good anti-virus product, and a firewall, or a suite which combines the two. Avoid pirate software, P2P networks, and illegal content, and make sure Windows is updated regularly.”
Raiu also advises users to make sure third-party software such as MS Office, Adobe Reader, Winamp and so on are updated regularly. He adds that people should practise safe computing, by not clicking on links from unsolicited e-mails, and avoiding disclosing banking details and other private information. “Lastly, always maintain a backup of your system.”
Myroff agrees: “Keep machines patched and use legitimate software that is kept up to date. General common sense can keep users protected from the threats that are out there.”