Rise of web-based malware in Q1 2007

Sophos has announced the results of its research into worldwide cybercrime activity during the first three months of 2007. The findings reveal that the overall number of new pieces of malware has grown dramatically, with the majority of malicious code writers selecting the web as its playground of choice.

In the first quarter of 2007, Sophos identified 23,864 new threats – more than double the number found in the same period last year when the company identified 9,450. At the same time, the percentage of infected email has dropped from 1.3 percent, or one in 77 emails in the first three months of 2006, to one in 256, or just 0.4 percent in 2007.

Infected websites pose greatest threat

From January to the end of March, Sophos identified an average of 5,000 new infected webpages every day, indicating that this route to infection is becoming more popular with cybercriminals. With computer users becoming increasingly aware of how to protect against email-aware viruses and malware, hackers have turned to the web as their preferred vector of attack.

The top ten malware families hosted on websites in Q1 2007 were as follows:

1. Troj/Fujif 50.8%
2. Troj/Ifradv 12.1%
3. Troj/Decdec 10.4%
4. Mal/Packer 6.3%
5. JS/EncIFra 5.5%
6. Mal/FunDF 2.3%
7. Mal/Psyme 2.2%
8. Troj/Zlob 2.0%
9. Mal/Behav 1.2%
10. Mal/DelpBanc 0.4%

Others 6.8%

Not all of the infected websites were created by the hackers themselves. Sophos has found that the majority, 70 percent, were bonafide websites that were vulnerable to attack because they were unpatched, poorly coded or had not been maintained by their owners. A further 12.8 percent were hosting malicious script while Windows malware was responsible for infecting 10.7 percent. Adware was found on 4.8 percent of these pages and porn diallers on 1.1 percent. Not all of the infected websites were created by the hackers themselves.

The most high profile website infection of the quarter happened in February when hackers placed malicious script, identified as Mal/Packer on the official Miami Dolphins website. The American football team was due to host the Super Bowl the weekend after this happened, so its site was an extremely popular destination for web surfers at the time. Sophos points out that attacks like these outline the fact that any site, regardless of subject matter, can fall victim and infect innocent visitors if it is not properly protected. Sophos recommends that businesses deploy web security solutions that not only filter based on website categorisation, but that properly inspect the code of every website before granting access.

In another incident in March this year, cybercriminals used spam campaigns to lure users to hacked sites in an attempt to sell goods. Legitimate websites with PHP vulnerabilities were hacked, redirecting visitors to a pharmaceutical store selling drugs. By using legitimate URLs in their spam messages, they were able to avoid less sophisticated spam filters, and when the victim clicked on the link they went to a genuine website only to then be automatically redirected to the hackers’ site.

“What’s most worrying is that so many websites are falling victim because the owners are failing to properly maintain them and keep up to date with their patches,” explained Carole Theriault, senior security consultant at Sophos. “The average internet user assumes sites like the Miami Dolphins homepage are safe to access, but by targeting a whole range of internet pages, hackers are successfully infecting a larger number of unwary surfers. Any ill-maintained website can fall victim.”

Web-based malware hosting countries

The top ten countries hosting web-based malware in Q1 2007 were as follows:

1. China 41.1%
2. United States 29.2%
3. Russia 4.6%
4. Germany 4.6%
5. Ukraine 3.9%
6. United Kingdom 3.0%
7. France 2.2%
8. Netherlands 1.9%
9. South Korea 1.3%
10. Taiwan 1.0%

Others 8.1%

The first quarter of 2007 has seen the UK, now responsible for hosting three percent of infected websites, enter this chart for the first time at number six. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of hacked sites hosted by China, which is now responsible for hosting over a third of all web-based malware, taking top position from the United States that led the chart at the end of 2006.

“China has traditionally had a bad reputation when it comes to cybercrime, consistently coming in the top two spam relaying countries month after month, so its position in this chart should come as no real surprise,” explained Theriault. “What’s more, China is leading the new internet revolution with a staggering number of individuals claiming website addictions. Given these rich pickings, it’s hardly a shock that hackers are focusing their efforts here.”

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