Age of the Mercenary Hackers; Computer Criminals Are a Security Nightmare in That Wild and Woolly Pla Ce Where Nasty People Exist. Nicola Warrington Reports
Warrington, Nicola, The Birmingham Post (England)
The smell of profit on the Internet is luring financial institutions towards a fearful frontier of hateful hackers, corporate spies and very little security.
Big US retail investment brokers are planning to widen their Internet access to target customers in Europe, even as regulators and security experts cautioned the risk to Internet investors was greater than ever.
"We say we're positioned at the intersection of Silicone Valley and Wall Street," Mr Guy Knight, Vice President of European Communications at Charles Schwab, which recently took over Birmingham-based ShareLink, told investment managers at the second annual Internet and Investment Products conference.
But Mr Kevin Black, British country manager for Internet Security Systems, told the conference that Internet access was a dangerous game fraught with increased risks for investment companies and their clients in a place where there were no real experts.
"The Internet is a wild and woolly place where nasty people exist," he said. "So if you're on the Internet your company is being attacked every day."
He said banks and investment managers never talked about theft and losses from computer crooks who used sophisticated software to probe the net for vulnerable websites.
Mr Black said that government computers in Britain were broken into electronically or "hacked" 655 times last year and that hackers cost British businesses over pounds 1 billion in 1997 alone.
"People are out there to get you," he said. "Today's smart criminals live on the Internet."
He talked of corporate spies, credit card "sniffers" and mercenary hackers who contract with companies to break into competitors' computers for money. He even gave out a list of websites that taught hacking to the most bumbling computer illiterate.
"There is even a new hackers' on-line catalogue and they take credit cards."
However, Mr Knight said his company believed it could bring its US on-line success to Europe to increase its share of the pounds 14 billion of worldwide Internet trading commissions expected by 2001.
He said Schwab hoped to add European customers to its more than one million existing Internet accounts in North America and swell Schwab's pounds 46 billion worth of customer assets.
But regulators said that apart from the security nightmare on the Internet, the broad appeal and access to the Internet has them concerned about Internet investing.
"I've been sitting here listening to all of you present these new ideas and innovations for the Internet and getting more and more worried by the minute," said Mr Martin Hollobone, senior executive of the enforcement and legal services division of Britain's Financial Services Authority (FSA). …