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Fraud hits one in ten Asian Internet deals

Fraud hits one in ten Asian Internet deals

By Marianne Bray

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- One in ten Internet transactions conducted in Asia is fraudulent, according to senior regional law enforcers.

The seemingly rampant fraud underscored the need to fight cyber crime, experts attending a cross-border crime meet in Hong Kong declared.

Singapore Police Commissioner Khoo Boon Hui urged businesses, especially multi-nationals, to join the fight against the borderless crime and stop criminals from finding a safe cyber haven.

Asia, with its 3.6 billion people, is set to have the largest number of Internet users in the world soon, with an enormous expansion of all types of online services underway.

Asian Internet users are expected to increase to 242 million by 2005, with research firm Gartner Group estimating the region's e-business market will hit US$910 billion by 2004.

But technology is providing "new tools for criminals to commit crimes," FBI Assistant Director, Ronald Iden, warned delegates from more than 30 nations at the conference on Wednesday.

Criminals use technologies to attack, penetrate or use computers to disrupt services, or facilitate crimes, he said, sometimes leading to "catastrophic instrusions" at the speed of light.

With financial markets channeling funds though cyberspace, there were more opportunities to commit crimes, Hong Kong's Chief Justice Andrew Li said, with digital technology lending itself to document forgery, copyright piracy and other fraudulent activity.

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Asia already has a reputation for being a breeding ground for software piracy, hackers, virus writers and slack server administrators.

Industry groups estimate more than 90 percent of computer software in China is pirated, with vendors hawking pirated DVD's for as little as $1.00. In November last year Hong Kong was awash with Microsoft XP one day ahead of its official launch.

Meanwhile Asian server administrators have been slammed for being too slack in not closing security holes and allowing hackers to use their servers. Chinese legislators have already called for laws to make administrators tighten security.

Examining Internet misuse in 21 countries and territories in the region, the Australian Institute of Criminology said in a recent report that up to 10 percent of all online consumer transactions in Asia involved some kind of fraud, with similar rates likely for business and government.

While it was difficult to calculate the cost of e-fraud -- with many companies unwilling to report such crimes -- Khoo said that if criminals were able to secure 10 percent of the region's e-business, that would amount to US$91 billion worth of siphoned business.

"Imagine the amount of influence criminal groups would have if they were able to secure a small fraction of this amount to finance their activities," Singapore's Khoo said.

Already one in every 20 customers in the United States is a victim of credit card fraud, says FBI's Iden, while one in 50 customers has been hit by identity fraud.

Cyber criminals, who are more difficult to identify, were using sophisticated computers at the speed of light, Iden said, forcing governments to be just as quick in resolving the crime in "Internet time."

Policing digital frontier

Policing digital frontier

To this end, the FBI has set up a cyber-crime division at its headquarters, working with the department of justice to pursue and punish criminals, and setting up immediate contact with major infrastructures and the business community, Iden said.

But policing the digital frontier and enforcing the cyber world is proving to be a challenge in Asia where 47 countries embrace the full spectrum of political and economic activity, delegates say.

"With 60 percent of the world's population and some of the fastest growing economies, if Asia became a haven for transnational criminal groups, the impact on the world would be devastating," Khoo said.

The Council of Europe adopted a controversial cyber crime treaty in November last year, which outlawed some online activities, clarified some jurisdictional issues and outlined what measures police forces should take in pursuing computer criminals.

No such treaty exists in Asia.


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