By Laton McCartney
Malicious code activity continued to grow at a record pace throughout 2008, primarily targeting confidential information of computer users. That's one of the key findings in security vendor Symantec's most recent Internet Security Threat Report, Volume XIV.
"As malicious code continues to grow at a record pace we're also seeing that attackers have shifted away from mass distribution of a few threats to micro-distribution of millions of distinct threats," said Stephen Trilling, vice president, Symantec Security Technology and Response. "Cybercriminals are profiting from creating and distributing customized threats that steal confidential information, particularly bank account credentials and credit card data. While the above ground economy suffers, the underground economy has remained consistently steady."
Symantec says it created more than 1.6 million new malicious code signatures, which detect malicious codes in 2008. This equates to more than 60% of the total malicious code signatures ever created by Symantec—a response to the rapidly increasing volume and proliferation of new malicious code threats. These signatures helped Symantec block an average of more than 245 million attempted malicious code attacks across the globe each month during 2008, it claims.
"The unfortunate reality is that innocent Web surfers can visit a compromised website and unknowingly place their personal and financial information at risk," said Marc Fossi, executive editor, Symantec Internet Security Threat Report XIV. "Computer users have to be extra vigilant about their security practices."
The report noted that Web surfing remained the primary source of new infections in 2008, and that attackers are relying more and more on customized malicious code toolkits to develop and distribute their threats. Furthermore, 90% of all threats detected by Symantec during the study period attempted to steal confidential information. Threats with a keystroke-logging capability-which can be used to steal information such as online bank account credentials-made up 76% of threats to confidential information, up from 72% in 2007.
Web application platforms were common sources of vulnerabilities during the evaluation period. These pre-built software products are designed to simplify the deployment of new Web sites and are in widespread use around the Internet. Many of these platforms were not designed with security in mind and consequently harbor numerous flaws leaving them potentially vulnerable to attack.
Of all the vulnerabilities identified in 2008, 63% affected Web applications, up from 59% in 2007. Of the 12,885 site-specific cross-site scripting vulnerabilities reported in 2008 only 3% (394) had been fixed at the time the report was written. The report also found that Web-based attacks originated from countries around the globe, with the most originating from the United States (38%), followed by China (13%) and the Ukraine (12%). Six of the top 10 countries where Web-based attacks were prominent were from the Europe and Middle East Africa (EMEA) region—these countries accounted for 45% of the worldwide total, more than any other region.
The report found that phishing continued to grow. In 2008, Symantec detected 55,389 phishing website hosts, an increase of 66% over 2007, when Symantec detected 33,428 phishing hosts. Financial services accounted for 76% of phishing lures in 2008 compared to 52% in 2007.
The report also found that the volume of spam is also on the upswing. Over the past year, Symantec observed a 192% increase in spam detected across the Internet as a whole, from 119.6 billion messages in 2007 to 349.6 billion in 2008. In 2008, bot networks were responsible for the distribution of approximately 90% of all spam e-mail.
Finally, the report indicates that by the end of 2008, there were more than 1 million individual computers infected by the worm Downadup (also known as Conficker); this worm was able to spread rapidly across the Internet due to a number of advanced propagation mechanisms. The number of Downadup/Conficker infections worldwide grew to more than 3 million infected systems during the first quarter of 2009.
The Internet Security Threat Report is derived from data collected by millions of Internet sensors, first-hand research, and active monitoring of hacker communications, and provides a global view of the state of Internet security. The study period for the ISTR XIV covers January 2008 to December 2008.
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