Computer security company McAfee made quite a splash Wednesday with the release of a study covering five years of cyber attacks against at least 72 different organizations, including 22 government entities in the U.S., Canada, South Korea and elsewhere as well as 13 defense contractors. Other victims included the Asian and Western national Olympic Committees, International Olympic Committee (IOC), World Anti-Doping Agency, the United Nations and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Secretariat. Some victims’ computer networks were compromised for years without anyone noticing.

The greatest threat to cyber security comes from those quietly stealing secrets and intellectual property as opposed to loosely organized, attention-seeking so-called hacktivist groups such as Anonymous or Lulzsec, according to Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at computer security firm McAfee (which was bought by Intel in February) and the report’s author. Whereas the cyber criminals making headlines are interested mostly in shutting down or defacing their victims’ Web sites, the most dangerous criminals are absconding with guarded national secrets (including from classified government networks), source code, computer malware databases, e-mail archives, negotiation plans and exploration details for new oil and gas field auctions, document stores, legal contracts, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) configurations and design schematics.

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