Hacked off companies lose out

But this is just the latest episode in a battle that has raged since men started using computers. How do you stop the hackers?

A recent court case in the US highlights the problem. John Sankus, 28, of Philadelphia has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit copyright infringement after he was involved in the possible theft of billions of dollars worth of software, games and movies.

It is alleged Sankus was operating with a complex network of around 60 hackers combining to pull off spectacular hits.

Corporate investigator Carratu International believes 95% of computer systems will be attacked this year while at least 85% of respondents to a recent survey detected security breaches within the last 12 months.

The problem is reaching endemic proportions.

The costs of being hacked are potentially enormous. Carratu believes damages caused by online breaches run to around £100,000 to £500,000 for more than one in 10 of companies that have been surveyed.

Yet despite the costs, and the publicity, hacking still goes on, security systems are either not in place or they are not maintained.

One listed company lost between £50m and £60m from the value its shares when it became known the company’s systems had been hacked.

And its not just outsiders that pose an electronic threat to company systems. Staff are also able to commit vast breaches of security. Carratu has dealt with a company where high level software developers resigned en mass and within hours it became clear that one of the team had attempted to email out ‘highly confidential and valuable source code from years of R&D’.

Ignorance is also a major problem. Firstly company managers don’t realise the value of IT. Carratu’s research reveals around 30% of organisations do not recognise their business information is sensitive or critical and therefore in need of protection.

Nor do people realise where the breaches can occur. One error is for workers to make their own modifications to their PCs, such as installing a modem, without telling there own IT people.

Gavin Hyde-Blake, a manager at Carratu, says: ‘There are a lot of people who just don’t know that they’ve had a security breach.’

Clever hackers cause no damage and just copy what they need without leaving ‘footprints’ – the victim is none the wiser.

The signs are that company’s will be forced into spending much more on IT security. The issue will not be settled with a fire wall solution as most will be out of date by time they are installed, according to Hyde-Blake.

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