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Unprecedented growth in computer crime activities

Anti-Phishing Working Group : 02 October, 2009  (Technical Article)
The Phishing Activity Trend Report from the Anti Phishing Working Group details the unchecked progression of criminal activities using computers during 2009
The APWG's latest Phishing Activity Trends Report illustrates electronic crime's innovation and apparently unchecked ambition with new records being reached for such felonious instrumentation as rogue anti-virus software, phishing websites and crimeware designed to target financial institutions' customers.

The APWG H1, 2009 report found that the numbers of detected rogue anti-malware programs, fake security software that actually infects computers to animate assorted electronic crimes, grew 585 percent between January and the end of June 2009.

The number of unique phishing websites detected in June rose to 49,084, the highest since April, 2007's record of 55,643, and the second-highest recorded since APWG began reporting this measurement.

The number of hijacked brands ascended to an all-time high of 310 in March and remained, in historical context, at an elevated level to the close of the half in June.

APWG Chairman David Jevans said, "The Internet has never been more dangerous. In the first half of 2009, phishing escalated to some of the highest levels we've ever seen. Of even greater concern is the skyrocketing sophistication and proliferation of malicious software designed to steal online passwords and user names. New malicious software such as the Zeus trojan, exhibit a level of sophistication that would make the best software programmers envious."

Indeed, APWG Trends Report correspondents at Panda Labs' research detected 152,197 different strains of rogue anti-malware in June, 2009, soaring from just 22,218 in January, 2009.

According to Luis Corrons, PandaLabs Technical Director and APWG Trends Report contributing analyst, rogue anti-malware program proliferation "is experiencing an exponential growth. In the first quarter of 2009 alone, more new strains were created than in all of 2008. The second quarter painted an even bleaker picture, with the emergence of four times as many samples as in all of 2008. The primary reason for the creation of so many variants is to avoid signature-based detection by legitimate antivirus programs."

In addition, the number of unique brand-domain pairs (indicative of the general number of unique URLs that occur per domain) rose to an all time high of 21,085 in June, increasing 92 per cent from January's reported 10,980.

Blake Hayward, Vice President, Product Marketing, MarkMonitor and APWG Trends Report contributing analyst said, "In Q2 we experienced a marked increase in phishing activity with record high brand-domain pairs and a near new high total unique phishing URL's detected. This increase in phishing activity can be attributed to more fast-flux phishing attacks."

With this issue of the APWG Trends Report, a new metric has been added, using data contributed by Websense, measuring proliferation of three categories of malevolent software: Crimeware (code designed to victimize financial institutions' customers); Data Stealing and Generic Trojans (designed to send information from the infected machine, control it, and open backdoors on it); and Other (commonly auto-replicating worms, dialers for telephone charge-back scams, etc.)

According to Dan Hubbard, APWG Trends Report contributing analyst and Websense Chief Technology Officer, "Due to evolution of attack sophistication, it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate and report on attacks that are specifically designed to steal customer banking information. Additionally, attacks that only look for credentials from popular social networking, web mail, and even gaming sites, can lead to attacks for banking theft and crimeware."

This metric replaces counts of 'Password-Stealing Malicious Code URLs' and 'Password Stealing Malicious Code - Unique Applications' which, due to incongruent sources and counting methods became systematically unreliable.

Highlights of the H1, 2009 Phishing Activity Trends Report include:

● Unique phishing reports submitted to APWG recorded a high of 37,165 in May, around 7 per cent higher than last year's high of 34,758 in October.
●The number of unique phishing websites detected in June rose to 49,084, the highest recorded since April, 2007's record of 55,643.
● The number of banking trojan/password-stealing crimeware infections detected increased during more than 186 percent between Q4, 2008 and Q2, 2009.
● The total number of infected computers rose more than 66 percent between Q4 2008 and the end of the half, 2009 to 11,937,944 - now more than 54 percent of the total sample of scanned computers.
● Payment Services became phishing's most targeted sector, displacing Financial Services in Q1 & Q2.

The results of the half-year report are of grave concern to the global membership of the APWG and the research centers, treaty organizations, law enforcement agencies, government agencies and industry associations with which the APWG corresponds.

Those members and researchers from around the world will be considering the results of the H1, 2009 report at the eCrime Congress, Tacoma on Oct. 19-21, a three-day event that combines the APWG's General Members' Meeting (member-restricted) on the 19th and the eCrime Researchers Summit on the 20th and 21st, (open to the public) a peer-reviewed research conference on electronic crime that the APWG holds annually in conjunctions with the IEEE Standards Association.
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