DHS cybersecurity budget grows to fight computer crime

With computer crimes on the increase, the Homeland Security Department is preparing to beef up its cybersecurity capabilities by increasing the budget of the National Cyber Security Division, home to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT).

At a Jan. 24 round table on cybercrime hosted by Symantec Corp., Andy Purdy, acting director of NCSD, said the budget for his organization is expected to grow by $25 million in fiscal 2007'a significant increase, given that the division's budget for this year is about $79 million.

'We are pleased with the increase,' Purdy said.

At a time when cybercrime is increasing rapidly and cybercriminals appear to be organizing and consolidating their efforts, the increase in NCSD spending on cybersecurity will be welcome.

Art Wong, vice president of security response and managed security services at Symantec, said trends in cybercrime during 2005 point to a rapidly changing environment. There were far fewer major worm outbreaks last year than in years past, he said, but there has been a massive increase in malware variants'adaptations of existing viruses, worms and Trojan horses designed to spread more slowly and attract less notoriety.

Hackers are 'more insidious than in the past,' Wong said. 'They're hacking for profit, not for fame.' For instance, of the 50 most common computer threats, 80 percent can potentially steal confidential information such as passwords, logins and other personal information, he said.

The hacker industry is maturing, so to speak. Wong cited statistics gathered by Symantec showing that attacks are being launched more along the lines of the regular work-week schedule'Monday through Friday'than on weekends, and more during regular business hours than overnight.

Consolidation also is occurring among the cybercriminals: Some specialize in stealing confidential data, but they sell it to others who serve as brokers. Some steal bandwidth, exploiting network vulnerabilities in order to open doors for others.

Some set up robot networks known as botnets, which can propagate autonomously and be run from a hidden command and control center, Wong said. More than 50 such centers have been identified 'in nations where we have a lot of bandwidth and connectivity,' he said. The top five countries where such botnets are based: the United States, Canada, South Korea, China and Germany.

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