Race to block cyber-criminals

Race to block cyber-criminals

In the movie, The Matrix, the bad guys are constantly morphing and taking on the identity of their opponents in a never-ending battle for supremacy of their multiple worlds.

It is Hollywood at its best, combining gongfu-like swashbuckling with sci-fi entertainment.

Pure fantasy?

I always thought so, until my visit to the Microsoft Cybercrime Center in Redmond, Washington, in the United States, last week.

Mr Peter Anaman, senior programme manager of global online piracy, is telling me about the software giant's work in battling cyber crooks intent on swiping money from your bank account, stealing your credit card details, and more.

More is bad because they also want to take over your computer.

So while you are merrily surfing away, rogue software, also called malware, has suddenly swooped from cyberspace and infiltrated your laptop, assuming its identity.

But it's not any old virus because your machine has now been turned into a master controller sending instructions to 10,000 other computers in an all-out attack on a government website.

You're still typing away oblivious to all this because the clandestine operation uses only 2 per cent of your laptop's processing power and leaves everything else intact.

But, wait, here come the good guys hot on the illicit cyber trail and homing in to your infected laptop.

Alas, the malware makes a quick getaway, morphs into another identity of another laptop on the other side of the globe, a la The Matrix.

Meanwhile, you are still updating your Facebook account but, unlike in the movie, you don't die; you just silently await the next instruction.

Welcome to the cyberworld's dark side in which a zillion such battles take place every day.

Here in Redmond, a team of 100 of some of the best brains in the business, together with their colleagues in nine other overseas centres, including in Singapore, is trying to keep the criminals at bay.

It's a critical part of Microsoft's operation because good cyberspace security is good for business.

As in the real world, you wouldn't want to shop in a crime-infested neighbourhood.

But there's another reason why Microsoft is taking this so seriously, and it has to do with piracy of its software.

These days, cyber criminals operate a diversified business, combining the counterfeiting of software with other lucrative activities such as siphoning money from your Internet bank account.

It's an interconnected business.

When they sell pirated programs, say, of Windows, they also infect it with malware to do all that terrible stuff to your computer.

Organised cybercrime is as sophisticated as what exists in the real world.

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