2008 predictions: Web and Windows Vista threats to rise while adware declines

McAfee released its top ten predictions for security threats in 2008. Researchers at McAfee Avert Labs expect an increase in Web dangers and threats targeting Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Vista operating system, among other new or increased threats. At the same time ad-serving software known as adware is expected to continue to decrease.

McAfee Avert Labs’ top 10 security threats for 2008:

Bull’s Eye on Web 2.0

Compromises and malware at Salesforce.com, Monster.com and MySpace, among others, represent a new trend in attacking online applications and social networking sites. Attackers are using Web 2.0 sites as a way to distribute malware and are data mining the Web, looking for information people share to give their attacks more authenticity. McAfee Avert Labs expects a large increase in this activity in 2008.

Botnets follow the Storm

With a handful of high-profile prosecutions of bot herders in 2007, criminals will be seeking better ways to cover their tracks. The Storm Worm set a worrying precedent. Also known as Nuwar, the Storm Worm has been the most versatile malware on record. The creators released thousands of variants and changed coding techniques, infection methods and social engineering schemes far more than any other threat in history. Storm created the largest peer-to-peer botnet ever. McAfee Avert Labs expects others will ride the coattails of that questionable success, pushing up the number of PCs turned into bots. Bots are computer programs that give cyber crooks full control over PCs. Bot programs typically get installed surreptitiously on the PCs of unknowing computer users.

IM = Instant Malware

The scenario of a “flash” worm via instant messaging applications has been foreshadowed for years. This threat could reach millions of users around the globe in a matter of seconds. There has been malware that spreads via IM, but we have yet to see such a self-executing threat. However, this may be closer than ever as the number of vulnerabilities in popular instant messaging applications more than doubled in 2007 compared to 2006. More importantly, there were 10 high-severity risks in 2007, compared to none in 2006. Additionally, the top IM virus families of 2005 and 2006 were replaced with new active threats, signifying an out with the old and in with the new milestone. Skype saw its first batch of worms in 2007. Many more are expected to follow.

Target: Online Gaming

The threat to virtual economies is outpacing the growth of the threat to the real economy. As virtual objects continue to gain real value, more attackers will look to capitalize on this. The evidence is already there. The number of password-stealing Trojans that targeted online games in 2007 grew faster than the number of Trojans that target banks.

Vista joins the party

In 2008, Windows Vista is set to gain additional market share and cross the 10 percent barrier. The release of Service Pack 1 for Vista is also likely to accelerate the adoption of the Microsoft operating system. As Vista becomes more prevalent, attackers and malware authors will start in earnest to explore ways to circumvent the operating system’s defenses. There were 19 Vista vulnerabilities reported since its release earlier this year. We can expect a lot more Vista vulnerabilities to be reported in 2008.

Adware continues its decline

The government crackdown against purveyors of ad-serving software has had a positive effect. The combination of lawsuits, better defenses, and the negative connotation associated with this form of advertising helped start the decline of adware in 2006. This trend was confirmed in 2007 and with the major players out of the game, adware is expected to continue its decline in 2008.

Phishers catch a wider net

Cybercrooks will increasingly target smaller, less-popular sites with data-thieving phishing scams. It has become tougher and riskier to target top-tier sites as the big-name brands are responding more quickly and providing increased security. Knowing that a large percentage of people reuse their usernames and passwords, less popular sites are likely to be targeted more frequently than before, giving criminals the same access.

Parasitic crimeware takes root

Parasitic infectors are viruses that modify existing files on a disk, injecting code into the file where it resides. While crimeware was storming ahead in recent years, parasitic malware faded to the background. In 2007 several crimeware authors turned old school to deliver threats like Grum, Virut, and Almanahe; parasitic viruses with a monetary mission. The number of variants of an older parasitic threat, Philis, grew by more than 400 percent, while over 400 variants of a newcomer, Fujacks, were catalogued. We expect a continued interest in parasitics from the crimeware community, with overall parasitic malware expected to grow by 20 percent in 2008.

Virtualization transforms information security

Security vendors will embrace virtualization to create new, more resilient defenses. Today’s complex threats will be easily defeated, but researchers, professional hackers, and malware authors will begin looking at ways to circumvent the new defensive technology, continuing the classic game of cat and mouse.

VoIP attacks to rise 50 percent

Already this year, more than double the number of security vulnerabilities have been reported in Voice over IP (Internet Protocol) applications, compared to all of 2006. We have also seen several high-profile “Vishing” attacks and a “phreaking” conviction. It is clear that VoIP threats have arrived and there’s no sign of a slow down. The technology is still new and defense strategies are lagging. McAfee Avert Labs expects a 50 percent increase in VoIP-related threats in 2008.

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