The global financial crisis threatens to spark a rise in cyber crime as computer experts lose their jobs and resort to illegal ways to earn a living, a senior official of Microsoft said Thursday.
"Today these (cyber) attacks are not about vandalism any more, today it's about cash," said Roger Halbheer, Microsoft's chief security advisor for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
"Cyber crime has gone from cool to cash. And this will definitely grow in the future," he told AFP on the sidelines of an international conference on terrorism and cyber security.
It is "one of the things that scares me about the economic downturn because I'm expecting cyber crime will grow."
He said the crisis had meant people with good knowledge of the industry were being laid off. "They then have time and they don't have money," he said.
"At the moment we are still at the cool side. But I'm expecting it to move to the cash side."
He referred to the Conficker worm, believed to have burrowed into millions of computers around the world in the last few months, as a possible example of this "cool to cash" trend.
"What the goal of Conficker is is still unclear," he said.
But criminals often create these "so they have a network of computers they control and then they try to sell their services to scammers and phishers or whatever ... So it might well be that this is what the guy who wrote this (Conficker) is trying to do now."
A task force assembled by Microsoft has been working to stamp out Conficker, also referred to as DownAdUp, and the software colossus has placed a bounty of 250,000 dollars (189,000 euros) on the heads of those responsible for the threat.
The worm, a self-replicating program, takes advantage of networks or computers that have not kept up to date with security patches for Windows.
It can infect machines from the Internet or by hiding on USB memory sticks carrying data from one computer to another.
"It is a pretty bad beast.., one of the worst we've seen in a long time," said Halbheer. "It looks for a lot of different channels which makes it so dangerous."
He said algorithmns used in the worm were first published in December and renewed in January. But Conficker used the first version and then updated it in January.
Microsoft has modified its free Malicious Software Removal Tool to detect and remove Conficker. Security firms, including Trend Micro, Symantec and F-Secure, provide Conficker removal services at their websites.
Halbheer also called for more collaboration between the private and public sector to combat cyber crime.
"A lot of critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector - the banks, telecom companies, energy companies. The government however has enforcement power as well as the intelligence power.
"We need to reach a state where we trust each other and exchange information."
As an example, he said that a bank could come to the government and say "we've been hacked into but we don't want to make it public."
The biggest challenge to this is in countries "where you don't have stable governments."
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