User education key to IT security: Microsoft

With the release of its latest Security Intelligence Report, Microsoft is encouraging its partners and customers to become more security aware and educated, as new attack tactics are on the rise.

Mohammad Akif, national security and privacy lead for Microsoft Canada, said the biggest change observed in the latest report is that organized crime is taking on more of an active role, with hackers now changing their attack tactics.

"The biggest increase is with fake security software," Akif said. "Hackers are becoming sophisticated in how they're sending out viruses that look like security software."

Used over the Web, it's called Rogue security software and is a set of viruses and spyware that's sold as security software and is usually advertised to users as a free trial. Once installed on a user's computer, it can then be used to monitor behaviour, purchasing patterns and other confidential information.

The motive, like most attacks today, is stealing passwords and financial information for financial gain, Akif said. In just the second half of last year, Akif says Microsoft tracked 300,000 PCs that were running rogue security software.

Still, the report found that lost and stolen computers and equipment make up of 50 per cent of all security breaches, while 25 per cent is attributed to hacking incidents. What this tells Microsoft, Akif said, is that users need to be more security conscious and aware of the types of attacks happening, and the precautions needed when dealing with personal and confidential information.

"It's much easier to do preventative security rather than reactive security measures," he said. "Awareness and education are the keys to solving this issue."

David Senf, director of infrastructure solutions at IDC Canada, said the problem behind threats like rogue security software lies in social engineering.

"The problem of rogue software is social engineering ... the heart of (the matter) is a user is duped. For the channel, the ability to generate leads from this sort of attack, say for training, is limited," said Senf. "But (still), the ability for the channel to generate awareness or demand is possible. Raising knowledge levels is critical."

To help spread awareness, Microsoft is launching Hack and Defend workshops in five Canadian cities next month. Akif said the workshops are by invite-only and are designed for developers, analysts, channel partners and end-users. Microsoft and industry experts will demonstrate how hackers utilize a Web site to gain access and control over information and will also teach defence strategies to prevent this from happening.

"We believe solving these security issues are really in the people and that's why Microsoft's investing on the people-side," Akif said. "Another piece of advice is users should be exercising automated security software measures on their computers, in addition to manual ones when necessary."

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