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Home » Hacking News » Latine American companies vulnerable to IT attacks

Latine American companies vulnerable to IT attacks

by Nikola Strahija on November 13th, 2002 E-commerce growth and heightened post-Sept. 11 worries have increased concerns about IT security among Latin American companies. But companies in the region are still easy prey to computer attacks, which cause them significant loss of money, productivity and credibility, analysts and vendors said.

Companies in the region are particularly vulnerable for a variety of reasons. First, companies in general don't spend enough on securing their IT systems. Companies in Latin America spend 3 percent of their total IT budget on security, while companies in the U.S. and Europe on average devote 15 percent of those budgets to IT security, said Paul Tonetto, general manager for Trend Micro Mexico. Then there are many companies, especially small and medium-size companies, that simply don't have enough money to properly secure their IT systems, said Wilson Grava, vice president for Network Associates Latin America, a division of Network Associates (NAI).

Also compounding the matter is rampant ignorance about security technology. Thus, companies that do have enough money to spend on IT security often limit themselves to installing antivirus software and don't consider other technologies like dedicated security appliances like firewalls or virtual private networks (VPNs), Tonetto said.

Moreover, many companies approach IT security from a reactive perspective, waiting for an attack to happen in order to act, instead of trying to prevent security breaches. According to IDC, 40 percent of IT attacks in Latin America are either not repelled immediately or are detected after the attack is completed.

"What we see is that companies react after the event has happened. There is little sense of prevention's importance," said Ed Wilson, senior security consultant for Brazil's division of Hewlett-Packard (HP).

Another problem is that companies don't properly train their employees on IT security matters and often either lack IT security policies or fail to properly inform employees about the policies. This causes employees to both unknowingly engage in risky activities and to make costly mistakes when using their companies' computer systems.

"Vulnerability also comes from lack of education and training of employees who do not know how to handle problems when they arise," said João Cerqueira, security manager for HP Brazil.

Governments' unwillingness to enforce computer-security laws is also part of the problem. Many countries in the region, mainly the largest economies -- Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Argentina -- already have laws that include IT security matters, but governments have not yet recognized the importance of judicial enforcement of these laws, said María Luisa Kun, research director for Gartner.

Last, but not least, local hackers, virus writers and disgruntled employees are active in the region. Distributed denial of service attacks are commonplace, and 12 to 20 viruses appear every day in Latin America, NAI's Grava said.

In Brazil alone there are some 10 important Brazilian hacker groups that have been detected and that are aggressively trying to sabotage companies, said HP's Cerqueira. For example, Iomega Corp.'s Brazilian unit gets six to seven hacker attacks a week, which the company controls through VPNs, firewalls, and internal applications to protect their servers, workstations and Internet gateways, said Wallace Santos, country manager of Iomega Brazil.

Then there is the internal threat: Most attacks are carried out from the inside by disgruntled employees seeking revenge on their employers, several vendors and analysts said. Eighty to 90 percent of attacks in Latin America are done internally, although the external attacks present a higher profile, said Bob Booth, regional director for Check Point Latin America, a business unit of Check Point Software Technologies.

This leads to all sorts of IT security problems for companies in Latin America. Some recent examples are:

-- Three years after it appeared, the FunLove virus continues to do damage in México, especially in medium-size companies, Trend Micro's Tonetto said.

-- A large Mexican bank had to halt its operations for about six hours last year after getting hit with the Sircam virus, suffering millions of dollars in losses, because it hadn't properly safeguarded its systems, said Nabor Garrido, marketing coordinator of Trend Micro Mexico, a business unit of Trend Micro Inc.

-- A DDoS attack stopped the operations at a large Brazilian bank for 38 minutes in December 2001, causing huge operating losses and also loss of credibility, Gartner's Kun said.

-- One of Venezuela's largest banks got hit with 17 e-mail relay attacks in 2001, a concerted attempt by hackers to destroy the bank's image and to steal information from its databases, Tonetto said. The situation highlighted not only the bank's unpreparedness, but also its lack of employee training in security matters because employees didn't know what the policy was for dealing with the flood of malicious e-mail messages that hit them, Tonetto said.

-- During the last presidential campaign in Mexico in 2001, then candidate and eventual president Vicente Fox had to publicly state that his campaign wasn't behind a mass-mailer e-mail supposedly signed by him that called for recipients to vote against the then-incumbent party. The message reached thousands of employees and resent itself after it was opened.

-- A large entertainment publishing company in Mexico lost information that later appeared in rival publications. After doing an investigation, it was discovered that a top executive had stolen private unpublished information from the company's database and sold it to the competition for a large sum of money, Tonetto said.

Security software vendors view the region as a good market niche, but have found the need to educate customers on the importance of providing a safe IT environment for their own employees and customers.

Part of NAI's strategy is to inform its customers of the danger and risk their company could face if they do not take care of security. "NAI has found new interest in addressing the education issue because it has realized that vendors not only have to do marketing, but they need to inform and educate their customers about the threat to their networks and the configuration of their environments," Grava said.

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