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This week in Net crime

Popular advertising site comes under a denial-of-service attack from blackmailers demanding a ransom.

Crime is big business on the Internet these days, and it seems to be getting bigger.

A popular advertising site came under a denial-of-service attack this week from blackmailers demanding a ransom. The Million Dollar Homepage site is battling a DoS onslaught that has escalated since it began last week, its owner said. The site, which successfully brought in $1 million by selling ad space for $1 per pixel, was launched by British student Alex Tew and gained notoriety for its unique approach to online advertising.

The blackmailers have demanded a ransom of $50,000, said Russell Weiss, vice president of technical services at InfoRelay, which operates the site. Tew and InfoRelay are working with the FBI on the case, Weiss added.

"There are clues that a Russian group may be involved, but we'll leave that assessment up to the FBI," he said.

Meanwhile, phishing attacks reached a new high at the end of 2005 after growing steadily all year, according to a new study. The number of unique e-mail-based fraud attacks detected in November 2005 was 16,882, almost double the 8,975 attacks launched in November 2004.

Phishing e-mails pretend to come from legitimate companies, such as banks and e-commerce sites, and are used by criminals to try and trick Web users into revealing personal information and account details.

The number of brands targeted increased by almost 50 percent over the course of 2005, from 64 to 93 percent in November. And attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with a quarter of all phishing Web sites hosting keylogging malicious software.

But phishing is far from the greatest threat on the Net. Dealing with viruses, spyware, PC theft and other computer-related crimes costs U.S. businesses a staggering $67.2 billion a year, according to the FBI. The FBI calculated the price tag by extrapolating results from a survey of 2,066 organizations.

The survey found that 1,324 respondents, or 64 percent, suffered a financial loss from computer security incidents over a 12-month period. The average cost per company was more than $24,000, with the total cost reaching $32 million for those surveyed.

Often survey results can be skewed because poll respondents are more likely to answer when they have experienced a problem. So, when extrapolating the survey results to estimate the national cost, the FBI reduced the estimated number of affected organizations from 64 percent to a more conservative 20 percent.