Chain up your PCs !!
An international band of computer hackers is stealing computers across the globe - via the Internet!
"It's a connected world now, thanks to the Net," said computer security expert Steve Glister. "Gone are the days when thieves needed to actually break into your house to carry off the hardware. Now you can do anything on the Internet, including ripping off the computers themselves."
Using special 'trojan' techniques originally developed by the NSA and other government security agencies - known as Hardware Transport Trojan Protocol, or 'http' - the cyber-muggers are able to use an Internet connection to digitally move the hardware.
"We think most of the computers are ending up in China, Russia and Nigeria," says Glister, "but it's hard to be certain. Their clever use of proxies means it's difficult to know where the computers go. But we're pretty sure that, once at their final destination, they're stripped down, resprayed and sold on the black market as 'new' computers."
One victim, artist Dougal Slipway, described his shock at finding his desktop PC had vanished. "I thought something was wrong. I looked around for the manual, and when I turned back the computer was gone! I switched off the modem, but it was too late."
Some victims have had their laptops stolen while using so-called Internet cafés. "These places have high-speed net connections," explained Glister. "A skilled hacker can download a laptop in under two seconds."
In the past, hackers have been mostly interested in stealing passwords, bank account details and other items of personal information. But filching the entire computer is more effective, Glister claims. "They can search the hard disk at their leisure to find the information they need to empty your bank account."
The problem mostly affects PCs running Microsoft Windows. "You'd think they'd go for high-value Apple Macintosh kit," said Professor Phil Rotsky, deputy head of the InfoSec department at Bradbury Community College, Elk's Elbow, Manitoba. "But they're actually hard to re-sell. Everyone who wants a Macintosh already has one."
On the other hand, Rotsky believes that the Apple iPhone might be the next big target for the cyber-muggers. "With 3G capability, it's connected at reasonable speed to the Internet. And you can usually sell iPhones to the same users over and over."
Glister, who works for anti-virus software firm McClammyAV, said his company is about to roll out, "a platform-independent, network-enabled hardware security solution" that he described as "an innovative approach to client-based location-fixing technology" and which cynical IT journalists described as "a padlock".
In the meantime, Glister recommends chaining your computer to your desk and disconnecting the Internet cable when the PC is unattended.