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2007 sees increasing trend in targeted on-line attacks.

Symantec : 17 September, 2007  (Technical Article)
Symantec report identifies the latest trend to targeting users of on-line brands in the hope of better results than the more traditional widespread approach.
The first six months of 2007 has seen an emerging trend in targeted online attacks reveals the latest edition of Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report, launched today. Online criminals no longer seek out victims through random attacks, preferring to lie in wait by targeting and compromising trusted websites and online applications. Once this has occurred they then have access to a much wider target group.

As more traditional avenues of attack are closed off, attackers have focussed their attention on the vulnerabilities associated with the adoption of web-based applications such as content management systems, e-commerce suites and web-based email. Online criminals are exploiting loopholes in Web 2.0 technologies that rely in large part on the user-publisher model of interaction, allowing for user-created content to be developed and implemented by large groups of people.

From January to the end of June, Symantec monitored that 61 percent of all vulnerabilities disclosed were web application vulnerabilities, demonstrating that businesses need to do more to instil confidence in their customers.

Social networking sites are one of the most heavily used and recent adoptions of Web 2.0, giving attackers the ability to take advantage of the implied trust between the users in the community and the sites hosting the content to compromise individuals and web sites or to create malicious web sites themselves.

"This trend highlights the changing role of the IT manager as they are expected to police and track employee adoption of Web 2.0 technologies. Whilst SaaS, SOA and such technologies may be taking the IT manager's imagination, these more consumer-focused Web 2.0 applications could become a major threat if not handled and managed correctly," said Ollie Whitehouse, security researcher at Symantec.

"The onset of Web 2.0 may have empowered the consumer, but what are the potential legal implications that exist within the enterprise? Businesses need the correct mix of policies, regulation and security and availability strategies to protect their brand in this new era of accessibility."

This has serious implications for enterprises with a potential end result of swift and crippling loss of consumer trust in their website and subsequently their brand. During the current reporting period Symantec discovered that:.

* 237 web browser plug-in vulnerabilities were recorded; over three times the number from the previous period.
* A prominent social networking site was one of the top targeted brands for phishing.

This shift in attacker strategy can also be seen in the propagation of malicious code. Instead of being delivered directly to an intended victim, the trend is moving towards malicious code such as Trojans being installed by attackers who have lured users into visiting pages that exploit vulnerabilities in the user's browser. During the first half of 2007, 18% of the 1509 documented malicious code instances exploited vulnerabilities. Whilst lower than the second half of 2006, the sites targeted have the potential to reach much larger numbers of users and therefore increases the chances of widespread propagation.

The report goes on to reveal the convergence between various attack methods, as attackers optimise the capabilities of the entire spectrum of attack methods. The increasing financial motivations for hackers has led to the convergence of threats, creating multi-staged attacks. Examples include incorporating Trojan downloads to set up a phishing web site, suggesting that code developers, malicious code authors, spammers and phishers are collaborating for mutual gain.

During the first six months of 2007 there were 212,101 reports of malicious code threats reported to Symantec, a 185 percent increase compared to the previous reporting period. Amongst these threats, Trojans were found to account for 73 percent of the top 50 malicious code samples, an increase from the 60 percent in the previous period, whilst 43 percent of worm infections were reported in the EMEA region.

The report went on to reveal that just three phishing toolkits were responsible for 42 percent of phishing attacks, further demonstrating the financial motivation of the sophisticated online criminals. Symantec alone blocked 2.3 billion phishing messages in the six month period, an increase of 53 percent over the last half of 2006, equating to an average of roughly 12.5 million phishing emails per day.

The Symantec Internet Security Threat Report provides a complete view of the Internet threat environment and is the only publicly available report of its kind that publishes not only an in-depth analysis of data and trends but also the methodologies used to arrive at its findings. The purpose of the report is to provide the information needed to help consumers and enterprises effectively secure their systems now and in the future.

The report provides a six-month update of Internet threat activity; the current volume, Volume XII, covers the six-month period from January 1, 2007 through June 30, 2007.
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