IT analysts say that Slovakia does not have the rescources to properly combat highly skilled IT hackers.
In Slovakia, where Internet penetration is only a fraction of that in western countries, issues involving regulation of Internet crime are only beginning to be confronted, and poor legislation is hindering police from tackling a potentially costly problem for many companies.
"There are no specific laws on IT and Internet crimes," said Bratislava criminal police lieutenant Mikuláš Husťák, who confirmed that IT crime was on the rise. "For example, a hacker would be violating only commercial law. We need to continue to improve laws, especially to combat crimes arising from new technologies," he said.
E-crime in Slovakia is handled in the same way as all other crimes - injured parties should report the crime directly to the regular police, and the complaint will be forwarded to one of three departments - violent, commercial or property crime.
Husťák said that laws to combat e-crime, such as hacking, needed to be taken out of these Slovak legal categories and put into a new category of 'IT crime'.
While keeping up with the pace of technological progress is a concern for police everywhere, the situation in Slovakia is exacerbated by budget constraints. Plans now three years old to form a special IT crime unit have still not been implemented, police officials say, because of a shortage of funds as well as the unclear legislation.
"In Slovakia, you can call the police if you want to report an Internet crime, but I doubt they can do anything," said Pawel Szimanski, IT analyst at Schroders Salamon Smith Barney in London. "They simply don't have the capacity."
The cost to business
Internet crime is divided into four categories. The first involves people trying to hack into an organisation system, the second involves commercial or credit fraud, the third the spreading of viruses and the fourth making public information or images that are illegal, such as child pornography.
Peter Hanečák, technical manager for the Bratislava-based Internet marketing firm Mega & Loman, said that all four forms of Internet crime existed in Slovakia. "You have a pyramid in Slovakia of Internet crime. The most prolific criminals commit minor crimes. Moving up the pyramid to more damaging activities requiring more skill, there are fewer and fewer people," said Hanečák. "Child-type pranks are what I see most often, kids who want to crash a system or change a line of text and then brag about it to their friends."
"A hacker can potentially disrupt every critical technology and business service a company has," said Alex Schmelkin, Vice President of American web-designing firm Northeast Operations for Avatar. "They can disable e-mail and Internet access, abscond with sensitive and personal data (such as credit card numbers, income information), erase years of digital data, cause harm to another organisation's computer and make it seem like the source of the harm was your company. In short, almost anything."
For businesses in Slovakia, analysts are already urging protective measures. While there are no precise figures available for Internet-crime in central and eastern Europe, Hanečák said: "Internet crime is only going to increase in Slovakia as more and more people become connected," adding that the often poor state of many computers used in Slovak business, caused by a general tendency among computer users world wide to not pay enough attention to keeping computer systems in good working order, made it even harder to detect computer crime.
"In fact many crimes go unnoticed here because people aren't generally aware when someone has tampered with their systems because they don't have them in order to begin with," he said.
Schroders Salomon Smith Barney's Szymanski warned: "Although there are probably fewer instances of computer crime in Slovakia than in the West, that doesn't mean there aren't any. While the skills of potential perpetrators are lower, security is also less sophisticated."
An ironic positive
Ironically, a positive offshoot of Internet crime in the West has been the creation of an Internet security sector. Thousands of companies now work at making systems hacker-proof, and software companies are developing and evolving sophisticated virus scan programmes. "The main onus in America is private. If a large firm doesn't outsource security, they usually have a special department devoted to it," said Schmelkin.
He added that while politicians often expressed concern over illegal images and information available to minors on the Internet, the burden of dealing with this has also shifted to the private sector. "It's simply not possible to prevent people from placing these types of things on the net," said Schmelkin. "There are enormous companies that employ thousands of people to find new websites with illicit material that pop up every day, and then add those addresses to filters sold to concerned parents."
Although not yet present in Slovakia, analysts expect that the appearance and growth of an industry responding to concerns over Internet crime would likely follow the same path as it has in the West. "It is probably only a matter of time," said Szimanski.
Additional reporting by Zuzana Habšudová