Report: Spam At Lowest Point Since 2008 While Malware Growth At All-Time High

McAfee, Inc. recently unveiled its McAfee Threats Report: Third Quarter 2010, which uncovered that average daily malware growth has reached its highest levels, with an average of 60,000 new pieces of malware identified per day, almost quadrupling since 2007.

At the same time, spam levels decreased in volume this quarter, both globally and in local geographies. Spam hit a two year low this quarter while malware continued to soar. McAfee identified more than 14 million unique pieces of malware in 2010, one million more than Q3 2009.

One of the most sophisticated pieces of malware that plagued users in Q3 was the Zeus botnet, the malware at the root of U.S. small businesses losing $70 million at the hands of Ukrainian cybercriminals.

Most recently, cybercriminals unleashed a Zeus botnet that is aimed at mobile devices and designed to intercept SMS messages to validate transactions. As a result, the criminal can perform all bank transactions, stealing funds from unsuspecting victims. McAfee also saw an increase in email campaigns attempting to deliver the Zeus botnet, under the disguise of the following recognized organization names: eFAX, FedEx, Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, United States Postal Service and Western Union.

Botnet activity remained strong in Q3, the most popular of which, Cutwail, accounted for more than 50 percent of traffic in every country. Cutwail bots engaged in distributed denial-of-service attacks against more than 300 websites, including United States government departments such as the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, and businesses websites such as Twitter and PayPal.

Although attacks on social media, such as Koobface and AutoRun malware, seem to have leveled off, the attacks have not ended cybercriminal manipulation. Twitter, for example, provides an attacker with information on the most popular terms and trends being discussed. Shortened URL services hide website destinations, disguising malicious links targeted at users searching for these popular terms. In Q3, 60 percent of the top Google search terms returned malicious sites within the first 100 results.

The discovery of the highly-sophisticated Stuxnet worm in July marked the beginning of a new era, and by September, more detailed analysis found that Stuxnet is more than just a spy worm, but a weapon written to sabotage critical infrastructure. Stuxnet has infected thousands of computers of unintended victims from all over the globe. McAfee Global Threat Intelligence technology has tracked the breadth and concentration of Stuxnet infections globally, which were first found in Iran, finding that today India suffers from the greatest concentration of attacks.

“Our Q3 Threat report shows that cybercriminals are not only becoming more saavy, but attacks are becoming increasingly more severe,” said Mike Gallagher, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Global Threat Intelligence for McAfee. “Cybercriminals are doing their homework, and are aware of what’s popular, and what’s insecure. They are attacking mobile devices and social networking sites, so education about user activity online, as well as incorporating the proper security technologies are of utmost importance.”

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