Report: Fake Security Software, Search Engines, Social Networks Top Internet Threats In 2009

The latest State of the Internet 2009 report issued recently by CA Inc. states that the most notable 2009 online threats were rogue/fake security software, major search engines, social networks and Web 2.0 threats.

The report, based on data compiled by CA's Global Security Advisor researchers, compiles trends from the first half of 2009. CA security researchers also offer predictions for the top Internet threats for 2010, including an increase in "malvertising" and the potential for another big computer worm outbreak like Conficker.

"Cybercriminals have made a business out of conducting attacks on the most popular online destinations because they promise the highest payoff," said Don DeBolt, director of threat research for CA's Internet Security Business Unit. "Cybercriminals keep up with trends, major events, holidays, and the like, and focus on where they'll get the biggest returns. Search engines, like Google and Yahoo, or social networking sites, like Twitter or Facebook, have the mass appeal to attract these criminals. In addition to Internet security software, the best weapon against today's threats is education, so that consumers know what to look for when they are conducting activities online."

CA researchers tracked the following trends in 2009:

  • Rogue or Fake Security Software: Software that poses as legitimate Internet security software but is actually malware has experienced a significant surge in popularity. In the first half of 2009, CA added detection for 1,186 new variants of Rogue security software, which is a 40 percent increase compared to the last half of 2008.
  • Search Index Poisoning: Google is a frequent target of online threats. Attackers employ sophisticated search engine optimizations to manipulate search engine rankings and poison users' search results, which direct them to compromised Web sites that can cause malware infections.
  • Social Networks/Web 2.0: Popular online communities, blogs and social media sites, such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, are highly targeted. Financially motivated organized groups are among the aggressive attackers, creating hundreds of bogus profiles to perform various tasks, including distributing malware, spamming and stealing users' online identities to perpetrate further cybercrime. Win32/Koobface is an example of a worm propagating through social networking sites. It uses the affected user's login credentials to send messages to the user's list of connected friends and family. In 2009, CA ISBU discovered more than 100 components and mutated strains belonging to the Win32/Koobface family.
  • Identity Theft: Attacks targeting online credentials allowed attackers to distribute further cybercriminal activities, such as email address harvesting for Spam bots, sweeping FTP accounts for Web infection and attributing to social network worm propagation, like Win32/Koobface. Stealing Trojans accounted for 23 percent of the most prevalent malware infections in 2009.
  • Cybersquatting and typosquatting: Malicious Web sites that masquerade as legitimate, reputable sites deceive users into undertaking transactions or activities in which they divulge sensitive data.
  • Mac OS X Threats: Security threats have come to the Mac. In 2009, CA ISBU has added 15 intelligent signatures detecting Mac OS X threats. The most prevalent being OSX/Jahlav.

"Malware doubled in 2009 and the ability to purchase bots and other malicious programs online is becoming more prevalent," DeBolt continued. "It is a cat and mouse game. Cybercriminals are evolving along with the malware community and are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities to exploit, from online banking to search index poisoning."

While spam and phishing scams are still on the rise, the breakdown for how malware was distributed in 2009 was dominated by the Internet at 78 percent, followed by e-mail (via attachments or phishing) at 17 percent, and finally removable media (such as USB drives, digital photo frames, etc.) with 5 percent.

CA forward looking online security predictions for 2010:

1. Search engine optimization exploits and malicious advertising (Malvertising) will increase as a means to distribute Malware.

2. Another big computer worm like Conficker is likely. The increasing popularity of web-based applications and discovery of critical zero-day vulnerabilities, especially for new operating systems such as Windows 7 and Google Chrome, present good opportunities for a new worm outbreak.

3. Threats to Web 2.0 technologies such as social networks will continue to grow.

4. Denial-of-Service attacks will increase in popularity as a means to make a political statement. Popular websites like Twitter and Facebook are likely to fall victim once again.

5. Banking Trojans: These Trojans manifest as banking-related threats orchestrated to steal users' identities for financial gain.

6. Malware actors will focus on the 64 bit and Apple platform.

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