Do McAfee’s new cyberstats really represent a shift?

Composite image of ZDNet column headline and McAfee report title: click for ZDNet columnAs brokers of reliable information about the scale of online crime and espionage, most information security vendors would make great used car salesmen — but McAfee’s latest research finally seems to be taking the right path.

In my column at ZDNet Australia this week, I give McAfee some praise for the most recent research they’ve funded, a preliminary report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies titled The Economic Impact of Cybercrime and Cyber Espionage that dismantles the daft idea that cyberstuff costs the global economy a trillion dollars a year.

McAfee now admits that you can’t run a small-N survey in a couple dozen large, wealthy nations — often a self-selected sample of known crime victims at that — and extrapolate the data globally.

Their new figure is “probably measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars”, although they never quite commit to one specific number…

“In the context of a $70 trillion global economy, these losses are small, but that does not mean it is not in the national interest to try to reduce the loss, and the theft of sensitive military technology creates damage whose full cost is not easily quantifiable in monetary terms,” McAfee writes.

True, but as McAfee themselves point out, this supposed cybercrime explosion is really down at the level of shoplifting. Retailers generally budget between 0.5% and 2% for pilferage and other such “shrinkage”.

I also mention my previous critical comments about various infosec vendors’ dodgy statistics — but I don’t link to them, because they were mostly published at non-CBS mastheads. So here’s a selection of stories I’ve written on this subject over the last couple of years.

Continue reading “Do McAfee’s new cyberstats really represent a shift?”

Weekly Wrap 109: Cold and wet until it wasn’t

My week from Monday 2 to Sunday 8 July 2012 started in the cold and rain of winter, but ended on a brighter note.

That simple sentence suppresses vast amounts of depressing detail that you simply don’t need to know about.


  • Patch Monday episode 144, “Hands off our packets, it’s the law”. Geoff Huston, chief scientist at APNIC and the guy who more or less connected Australia’s universities to the internet, reckons that Telstra handing over web browsing logs to an external organisation is something that should be investigated by law enforcement. I posted the background earlier.


  • Cashing in on Kaching, Technology Spectator, 6 July 2012. All about Commonwealth Bank’s mobile banking strategy, in an article twice the length of anything I’ve written previously for this masthead.

Media Appearances

  • On Thursday I spoke about the Telstra thing and other mobile data privacy issues on the Twisted Wire podcast, Is your phone watching you?

Corporate Largesse

  • On Thursday the Commonwealth Bank briefed the media about their new Kaching for Android app and their mobile strategy generally, and that happened over food and wine at Sydney’s Flying Fish Restaurant on their tab.

The Week Ahead

So it’s the second week of the school holidays, so Bunjaree Cottages is still booked out, so I’m still lurking in a SEKRIT location in Sydney. Until Sunday lunchtime, probably.

On Tuesday Symantec is holding its Next@Norton media briefing as “an indulgent High Tea” from 0930 to 1200, presumably oblivious to the fact that high tea is an early evening meal for labourers and children. I’ll probably write it up for CSO Online.

On Thursday afternoon I’m interviewing futurist Mark Pesce about the themes being discussed in the blog-cum-book he’s writing with Robert Tercek, The Next Billion Seconds. That’ll be the following week’s Patch Monday podcast, unless some news cycle event bumps it.

There’s other writing tasks to interleave with that, as well as some work on the last remaining web management client on my books.

I might take the afternoon off on Friday.


Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream (or they used to before my phone camera got a bit too scratched up) and via Instagram. The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags. Yes, I should probably update this stock paragraph to match the current reality.

[Photo: Sydney, Two-masted City, being a view of Sydney Tower and the mast of an unidentified ship over the roof of Jones Bay Wharf, Pyrmont, on 5 July 2012.]

Not hacked, bugs

It turns out that my technical difficulties the other day were in all likelihood not the result of being hacked but an arsehat software incompatibility.

The short version is that the weirdnesses I experienced were caused by:

  • OS X Lion has known problems dealing with certain PDF files. It appears that the problematic PDF, produced by and then emailed via a Mailman mailing list, was one of them. Hence Apple Mail and sometimes Preview would crash when dealing with this PDF.
  • Norton Internet Security for Mac version 4 is only for OS X up to Snow Leopard. OS X Lion requires Norton Internet Security for Mac version 5. It’s a shame neither NIS nor Lion knew this.
  • Norton Internet Security probably hadn’t updated its virus definitions in the previous week because I was travelling a fair bit and was probably offline at the scheduled time.

I determined all this while I was running backups. It’s always sensible to make sure your backups are in order before doing any significant technical work.

I discovered that:

  • Copying the 400GB of Time Machine backups of my old MacBook Pro from one external USB drive (pocket sized) to another (bulkier, for archiving) using the Finder took more than 7 hours.
  • Creating the initial Time Machine backup of my new MacBook Pro on the pocket USB drive, some 220GB of data, took a little over three hours.
  • Encrypting that 640GB USB drive took 14.5 hours.

In hindsight, I suppose I should have checked software compatibility when transferring everything from the dead Snow Leopard machine to Lion, but then it did flag other stuff as incompatible so I assumed… yeah, I know.

Live Blog: How pwned am I?

Uhoh. My MacBook Pro may have been hacked. I’ve already done a bit of troubleshooting, but this looks like it’s going to be A Thing, so I’ve decided to liveblog it. And here’s the liveblog.

The brief version is that Apple Mail crashed when it tried to open a particular email message dated 4 November, one containing a PDF file. Consistently. So I thought I’d do a virus scan on it.

That’s when Norton Internet Security reported that LiveUpdate was missing pieces, and I saw that it hadn’t checked for updates since… 4 November. Eek.

Now all the action would have happened on my battered old MacBook Pro running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. That computer finally died of motherboard failure on 11 November and I replaced it with a fresh OS X 10.7 Lion machine on 12 November.

However I did just transfer everything across using Apple’s migration tool, rather than freshly installing all the software and just copying the data, so… well… who knows what the hell is going on?

Deep in my heart I suspect that it was just bugginess and a dying computer, copied badly to a new computer. I hope.

If you want to follow or even help, the liveblog is over the jump.

[Update 11.20pm: Things may not be as bad as I thought. It turns out that Norton Internet Security for Mac version 4.x is only compatible for OS X up to version 10.6 Snow Leopard. There’s NIS version 5.x for OS X 10.7 Lion. It looks like it’s a straightforward software compatibility problem, and the lack of updates could be because I was travelling that week and the computer was offline when updates were scheduled. If this is all the case, I’m a bit disappointed that the software itself couldn’t figure this out.]

Continue reading “Live Blog: How pwned am I?”

Weekly Wrap 67: Spring comes to Sydney

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets. A relatively quiet week, because I took a bit of time off in Kuala Lumpur and then in Sydney when I returned.



Media Appearances


Corporate Largesse



Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream. The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags.

[Photo: Sydney cityscape, photographed from Potts Point, photographed with my new Nikon Coolpix S8100 camera. I really did need a decent digital still camera for editorial work, and this will do the trick.]