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Cyber Attacks Increasingly Target Home Users for Financial Gain - Symantec

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Cyber Attacks Increasingly Target Home Users for Financial Gain - Symantec

The latest Internet Security Threat Report released on 25 September 2006 by Symantec shows that because home users are less likely to have established security measures in place, they are being increasingly targeted by attackers for identity theft, fraud, or other financially motivated crime. Furthermore, attackers are now using a variety of techniques to escape detection and prolong their presence on systems in order to gain more time to steal information, hijack the computer for marketing purposes, provide remote access, or otherwise compromise confidential information for profit.

“Understanding the current threat landscape is critical in helping us protect our citizens' online interactions and ensure the availability of our critical systems,” said David Jordan, chief information security and privacy officer for Arlington County, Va. “The current threat intelligence in Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report, combined with our use of leading-edge security technologies, helps us ensure the highest degree of security for our citizens and government agencies.”

Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report notes that home users are the most targeted attack sector, accounting for 86 percent of all targeted attacks, followed by financial services businesses. Symantec has identified increased attacks aimed at client-side applications, increased use of evasive tactics to avoid detection, and that large, widespread Internet worms have given way to smaller, more targeted attacks focusing on fraud, data theft, and criminal activity.

“Attackers see end users as the weakest link in the security chain and are constantly targeting them in an effort to profit,” said Arthur Wong, senior vice president, Symantec Security Response and Managed Services. “Given the effect this has on our large and growing customer base, Symantec introduced new metrics to further understand how to better protect customers against these security concerns in years to come.”

Desktop Attacks on the Rise

As software vendors and enterprises successfully adapt to the changing threat environment by implementing security best practices and defense-in-depth strategies, attackers have begun to adopt new techniques such as targeting malicious code at client-side applications including Web browsers, e-mail clients, and other desktop applications. Vulnerabilities affecting Web applications accounted for 69 percent of all vulnerabilities documented by Symantec in the first half of 2006. Vulnerabilities in Web browsers have also become increasingly prominent, with 47 vulnerabilities documented in Mozilla browsers (compared to 17 in the last reporting period), 38 in Microsoft Internet Explorer (compared to 25), and 12 in Apple Safari (compared to six).

Evasive Techniques on the Rise

During this reporting period, 18 percent of all distinct malicious code samples detected by Symantec had not been seen before, indicating that attackers are more actively attempting to evade detection by signature-based antivirus and intrusion detection/prevention systems.

Phishers are also attempting to bypass filtering technologies by creating multiple randomized messages and distributing those messages in a broad uncontrolled fashion. During the first six months of 2006, 157,477 unique phishing messages were detected, marking an increase of 81 percent over the previous period. At the same time, spam made up 54 percent of all monitored e-mail traffic, a slight increase from 50 percent the previous period. Most spammers are opting to exclude malicious code with their spam to decrease the chances of being blocked and instead include links to Web sites hosting malicious code.

Financial Gain Drives Malicious Activity

Financial gain remains the motivation behind many of the threats during the reporting period. For example, bot networks can be used not only to spread malicious code, but to send spam or phishing messages, download adware and spyware, attack an organization, and harvest confidential information. Symantec identified more than 4.6 million distinct, active bot network computers and observed an average of 57,717 active bot network computers per day during this period. Bot networks are also commonly used in denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, a major threat to organizations as these attacks can result in disrupted communication, loss of revenue, damage to brand and reputation, and exposure to criminal extortion schemes. During the first half of 2006, Symantec observed an average of 6,110 DoS attacks per day.

Other financially motivated attacks use modular malicious code, malware that updates itself or downloads a more aggressive threat upon establishing a foothold on the victim host, to expose sensitive information. During the first half of 2006, modular malicious code accounted for 79 percent of the top 50 malicious code reported to Symantec. Additionally, malicious code threats that expose confidential data represented 30 of the top 50 samples submitted to Symantec.

For the first time, Symantec tracked the sectors of brands being targeted by phishing attacks – another means to monetary gain. Not surprisingly, the financial services sector was the most heavily phished, accounting for 84 percent of phishing sites tracked by the Symantec Phish Report Network and Symantec Brightmail AntiSpam this period.

Additional Key Findings

  • Vulnerabilities : Symantec documented 2,249 new vulnerabilities in the first half of 2006, an increase of 18 percent over the previous period and the highest volume of vulnerabilities recorded for any reporting period.
  • Window of Exposure and Time-to-Patch : The window of exposure for enterprise vendors and Web browsers was 28 days, down from 50 days in the previous period. Microsoft Internet Explorer had an average window of exposure of nine days (down from 25), Apple Safari at five days (up from zero), Opera at two days (down from 18), and Mozilla at one day (up from negative two). For the first time, Symantec tracked the average time it takes operating system vendors to release a patch for a vulnerability. Sun had the longest patch release time with 89 days followed by HP with 53 days. Apple took an average of 37 days while Microsoft and Red Hat had the lowest average patch release times with 13 days.
  • Misleading Applications : Three of the top 10 new security risks were misleading applications that give false or exaggerated reports of security threats on a user's system in order to persuade the user to pay money to upgrade to another version of the software that will “remove the threats” that were found.
  • Denial-of-Service Attacks : The United States was the location of the most denial of service (DoS) targets, accounting for 54 percent of the worldwide total, and the Internet service provider (ISP) sector was the sector most targeted by DoS attacks. The United States also had the highest percentage of bot command-and-control servers, with 42 percent of the total, while China had the highest number of bot-infected computers, with 20 percent of the worldwide total.
  • Future Threats : Among the trends Symantec expects to see in the future are a resurgence of polymorphism and other evasion techniques in Win32 malicious code; an increase in threats which exploit “Web 2.0” concepts such as user-based publishing and technologies like AJAX; security concerns associated with the release of Windows Vista; and an increase in the number of vulnerabilities reported due to the use of fuzzers which are programs or scripts designed to find vulnerabilities in software code.

About the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report

The tenth volume of the semiannual Symantec Internet Security Threat Report covers the six-month period from Jan. 1, 2006, through June 30, 2006. It is based on Symantec data collected from more than 40,000 sensors deployed in more than 180 countries in addition to a database covering more than 18,000 vulnerabilities affecting more than 30,000 technologies from more than 4,000 vendors. Symantec also reviews more than 2 million decoy accounts that attract e-mail messages from 20 different countries around the world allowing Symantec to gauge global spam and phishing activity. To provide enhanced insight into the evolving threat landscape, this volume of the report includes several new metrics, such as the window of exposure for Web browsers and the proportion of previously unseen malicious code.

The full Internet Security Threat Report includes additional statistics and detail and is available for download at . There is additional multimedia information at .

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