CERT: Security incidents up sharply in 2002

Internet security incidents for the first half of 2002 are up sharply over 2001 and are on pace to substantially exceed last year's figures, according to new statistics released Thursday by the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination Center.

This increase, however, may be due to better reporting and awareness, and not due to substantially increased attack activity, according to a CERT Coordination Center (CERT/CC) representative.

The CERT/CC is a federally-funded computer and network security research organization that tracks security incidents and software vulnerabilities and is based at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. CERT/CC coordinates the disclosure and response to some security vulnerabilities, attempting to ensure that vendors have fixes or patches for vulnerabilities ready before those flaws are disclosed to the public.

For the first half of 2002, CERT/CC reported that it logged 43,136 security incidents. The group defines a security incident as any related set of security events. 2001 saw 52,658 security incidents for the entire year.

Security incidents have been steadily increasing since 1988, when CERT/CC first started tracking them. Their number exploded in 1999, which had nearly 10,000 incidents, as opposed to nearly 4,000 in 1998. There were 21,756 security incidents in 2000.

Also up in the first half of 2002 are security vulnerabilities, holes in software that could lead to attack, CERT/CC reported. So far this year, 2,148 such vulnerabilities have been disclosed, almost equalling the 2,437 announced in all of 2001. There were 1,090 vulnerabilities reported by CERT/CC in 2000.

The numbers are up for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that CERT/CC has more people reporting incidents to it and that more users have a better awareness of what constitutes a security incident, said Chad Dougherty, Internet security analyst at CERT/CC.

The vulnerability numbers are up, he said, because there are more people searching for flaws than in the past.

The growth of Internet use also plays into the increase, he said. Despite the increases in users reporting to CERT/CC, the group still isn't getting all the available information, Dougherty said.

"It's always been our position that the amount of incident activity reported to us was only a small indication of what was going on on the Internet," he said. "We are still only getting a portion of the total amount of security incidents."

Nonetheless, users still need to take security seriously, he said.

"It's still a serious problem and people still need to be aware of the issues involved with connecting a system to the Internet," he said.

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Sam Costello

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