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3 Major IT Threats to Watch for in 2012

Three Threats in IT for 2012While it may seem as if Information Technology (IT) has expanded as much as it possibly can, IT is actually becoming even more critical to the way we do business and socialize.

It’s also becoming increasingly vulnerable on a number of different fronts. People put more personal information onto the web than ever before, and recent developments such as social media websites and cloud computing (software based on the Internet, such as Google Documents) do not seem to be going away.

Hackers and criminals will look for ways to exploit these new technologies to steal information, disrupt systems, and commit fraud. Here are three of the most urgent IT threats experts are predicting in 2012.

Search Poisoning

Search engines such as Bing, Yahoo! and Google are the most-visited sites on the web. Websites for businesses and individuals can gain big boosts in traffic and influence when they rank highly for heavily-searched terms. Frequently, they pay for Internet marketing experts to perform search engine optimization (SEO) on their sites: making improvements and promoting pages to rank higher for relevant terms.

Search poisoning is SEO gone bad. Cybercriminals create sites with malicious content, such as viruses, and optimize them for popular search terms—often connected to current events, celebrities, or other topics that are experiencing a sudden surge in popularity. Searchers then click on the site, thinking that because it ranks highly, it must be relevant, and find that their machine is attacked by the “poisoned” site.

Attacks On Mobile Devices

As web-enabled smartphones become more common, cybercriminals will naturally seek to exploit their weaknesses the same way they exploit desktop and laptop computer users. According to search marketing website Search Engine Land, 15% of all searches conducted in early 2011 were performed on mobile devices, and that number was expected to double by the end of 2012.

As convenient as smartphone web browsing can be, there are a number of teething problems with mobile browsers that leave them very vulnerable to attacks. For instance, restrictions on what mobile browsers can display may rob users of certain visual cues they need to determine whether a site is safe. And some mobile browsers don’t automatically update with the latest security patches the way desktop browsers do.

Also, smartphones that have been infected with malware or other malicious content can cause damage to other systems. When a user plugs a smartphone into a computer to charge it or upload data to it, the malicious content can be passed into the computer, and then into any networks on which the computer is active.

Botnets: The Next Generation

Botnets are networks of compromised computers that run automated programs. These programs can mine websites for exploitable information, conduct malware attacks, or conduct a distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack that crashes a website with overwhelming traffic when every bot on the network tries to access a site at once. A 2008 report in the Chronicle of Higher Education estimated that up to 15% of all networked computers were acting as bots.

Previously, botnets were used to steal usernames and passwords to e-mail accounts, which were useful to spammers. Now, botnets can mine social media websites for more personalized information about users—age, sex, location, spending habits—and sell the information collected to marketing companies looking for leads.

Challenges for IT Security

Criminals are inventive. Security professionals need to be inventive, too, by developing methods of protecting programs, networks, and data that don’t slow down the user experience too much. Pursuing an industry-current degree in Information Technology that focuses on information assurance and security or digital investigations can help those interested in these issues learn more about how the IT industry is mobilizing against these threats.

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