Documenting and combatting cyber villains

Kingston-based USA Today tech writer/author Byron Acohido and fellow reporter Jon Swartz document rising tide of cyber crime.

Kingston-based USA Today tech writer/author Byron Acohido and fellow reporter Jon Swartz document rising tide of cyber crime.

Following more than a decade of business reporting at the Seattle Times, Byron Acohido has spent the past five years at the tech desk for USA Today.

Much of the latter time has been spent building a platform for this book “Zero Day Threat,” which he and co-author/colleague Jon Swartz released earlier this spring.

In 2005, the Society of American Editors and Writers awarded Swartz and Acohido’s body of work covering Internet security and cyber crime the Best in Business Award for Projects by a large newspaper, while in 2006, their work was a step away from being a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer.

But that’s not so much what it’s about, Acohido said.

It’s more about getting the word out on a little known threat and the dangers of hosting personal data on the World Wide Web.

The book is titled “Zero Day Threat,” Acohido said, because it is a hazard so new that no viable protection against it exists.

“And it’s continuing up a straight curve,” he added, with virtually no end in sight, “until more awareness gets out there and people start voting with their feet to protect themselves.”

Since last April’s release of “Zero Day Threat,” Acohido has spoken on the topic at several tech security conferences as well as on radio shows and weblogs nationwide. In that time, he said he’s found somewhat of a uniform reaction from the cross section of audiences.

“Almost everyone, from news radio hosts to corporate executives, are shocked when I lay out the case for why the problem of Internet-enabled data theft and financial fraud is so pervasive and how it continues to expand apace,” he said.

He’ll be speaking, and likely shocking, at Eagle Harbor Books at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11, giving somewhat of an identity theft workshop, talking about steps you can take to protect your computer from cyber criminals and reading from the book.

It’s all very ominous, right from the front cover: “The Shocking Truth of How Banks and Credit Bureaus Help Cyber Crooks Steal Your Money and Identity.”

To protect yourself, Acohido says, it’s best to not put the information out there in the first place. Stay away from online banking or online stock trading. Watch your statements if you use a credit card for making a transaction over the Internet, which is, ironically, Acohido said, safer than online banking.

But the “bad guys,” as Acohido calls them, can make their fortune by gaining access to your hard drive through spam links. If you click on the wrong link, it could tag your computer and open up a back door to your computer, through which the cyber criminals can then harvest basically whatever data is going in or our of your computer’s two main ports — Internet and e-mail.

They harvest this data from thousands of computers at a time, collecting the data and links to all these computers in hubs called bots.

It’s gotten to the point, Acohido says, that the cyber criminal ring has become a global economical businesses with companies buying and trading the harvested information.

“It basically boils down to two simple things,” Acohido said. “There’s a very rich organized market to harvest and steal your data and then there’s another that wants to buy that data. And all of this is enabled and scaling out because of the Internet.”

And what’s more, the increasing convenience of the Internet, which many Americans crave, could be making all this data even more vulnerable.