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News

Accessibility Of Attack Kits Brings Cyber Crime Capabilities To The Masses

Symantec : 19 January, 2011  (Technical Article)
Attack kit availability and quality is attracting a wider group of people to cybercrime as witnessed by the proliferation of Zeus, according to a new report from Symantec
Symantec has announced the findings of its report on Attack Toolkits and Malicious Websites.  The study reveals that as attack kits become more accessible and relatively easier to use, they are being utilized much more widely. This has attracted traditional criminals who would otherwise lack the technical expertise into cybercrime, fueling a self-sustaining, profitable, and increasingly organized global economy.



Attack toolkits are software programs that can be used by novices and experts alike to facilitate the launch of widespread attacks on networked computers.  These kits enable the attacker to easily launch numerous pre-written threats against computer systems.  They also provide the ability to customize threats in order to evade detection, as well as automating the attack process.



The relative simplicity and effectiveness of attack kits has contributed to their increased use in cybercrime— these kits are now being used in the majority of malicious Internet attacks.  For example, one major kit called Zeus poses a serious threat to small businesses.  The main objective of Zeus is to steal bank account credentials; unfortunately, small businesses have fewer safeguards in place to guard their financial transactions, making them a prime target for Zeus.



The profitability of malicious code attacks using Zeus was recently illustrated by the September 2010 arrests of a ring of cybercriminals who allegedly used a Zeus botnet in the theft of more than $70 million from online banking and trading accounts over an 18-month period.



As cyberattacks have become more profitable, the popularity of attack kits has dramatically increased.  This in turn has led to increasingly robust and sophisticated kits. These kits are now often sold on a subscription-based model with regular updates, components that extend capabilities, and support services.  Cybercriminals routinely advertise installation services, rent limited access to kit consoles, and use commercial anti-piracy tools to prevent attackers from using the tools without paying.



The speed at which new vulnerabilities and their exploits spread around the globe has increased due to innovations that attack kit developers have integrated into their products.  Attack kits are now fairly easy to update, which allows developers to quickly add exploit code for new vulnerabilities.  The result is that some exploits are in the wild just days after the associated vulnerability becomes public.  Attackers who can easily update their attack kits with recent exploits are able to target potential victims before they apply necessary patches.



Because attack kits are becoming easier to use, cybercrime is no longer limited to those with advanced programming skills.  Participants now include a mix of individuals with computer skills and those with expertise in traditional criminal activities such as money laundering. Symantec expects that this much larger pool of criminals entering the space will lead to an increase in the number of attacks.



“In the past, hackers had to create their own threats from scratch.  This complex process limited the number of attackers to a small pool of highly skilled cybercriminals,” said Stephen Trilling, senior vice president, Symantec Security Technology and Response.  “Today’s attack toolkits make it relatively easy for even a malicious novice to launch a cyberattack.  As a result, we expect to see even more criminal activity in this area and a higher likelihood that the average user will be victimized.”
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