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Complacency threatens online security

The "I Love You" virus savaged email systems a year ago.  

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- One year ago, the "I Love You" email virus swept through computers in Asia, leaving destruction in its wake.

The region seems to have learnt from the costly lesson, and managed to dodge a major infection from the Anna Kournikova virus with just a day to prepare.

But while anti-virus experts say some Asian firms have boosted computer security, far too many companies still remain complacent.

"In the U.S., we see big corporations spend a lot of money on security systems - about 15 percent of their IT budgets," Daniel Cheng of software vendor Symantec said.

"In Hong Kong and in some parts of Asia, their spending is pretty low. It's about three to five percent."

Sinister intentions

Experts say this complacency is all the more dangerous since viruses are increasingly being used for more sinister purposes.

"Viruses in the past were really there to propagate and annoy, to make mischief," Joe Sweeney, a computer virus expert with the Gartner group, said.

"[But] some of the viruses that we now see are not there to make mischief. They're stealth viruses. They get in there and they're actually involved in, for lack of a better word, industrial espionage."

Some of the more high-profile victims of this new wave of cyber crime include Yahoo! and, but Asian firms have also been assaulted.

"One of my clients actually has about one hundred attacks per day on its websites, and that's pretty serious," Cheng says.

In Hong Kong, computer crime has jumped tenfold in just three years, with hacking cases up more than 20 times.

Experts like Roy Ko of Hong Kong's computer emergency response team say it's all because many companies are ill prepared.

"Most organizations in Hong Kong are small to medium sized and they don't have a particular person taking care of their IT operations, not to mention a security expert in their company to take care of all these security related issues. They try to do it on lower priority and in a reactive way," Ko says.

With this sort of attitude, it's little surprise Interpol predicts that cyber crime and electronic vandalism will emerge as the biggest criminal threats in the region.

And it doesn't help that politically motivated hacking, or "hactivism" is on the rise.

Websites from the Falun Gong to the U.S. Navy have been defaced in the name of one political agenda or another. But analysts say what's worrying is that this sort of hactivism is taking on a mercenary twist.

"We already see the hackers who have trained themselves on politically motivated hacking moving into very professional areas," Sweeney said.

"I've seen examples in the Philippines where hackers have broken into big newspaper sites, then offered their services to protect the sites against foreign hackers. Definitely, blackmail is a growing trend in this area."

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