Growth of underground cybercrime economy

According to research from Trend Micro’s TrendLabs, the number of compromised Web sites are slowly outnumbering malicious ones created specifically by cyber criminals. It debunks the adage to “not visit questionable sites” because even trusted Web sites such as those belonging to Fortune 500 companies, schools and government organizations can hold malware.

An underground malware industry has carved itself a thriving market by exploiting the trust and confidence of Web users. The Russian Business Network, for example, was notorious all year for hosting illegal businesses including child pornography, phishing and malware distribution sites. This underground industry excludes no one. In 2007, Apple had to contend with the ZLOB gang, a group of professional hackers who relies on tricking users to download and install malicious software; even alternative operating systems are not safe havens for the online user when it comes to Web threats. The Italian Gromozon, a malware disguised in the form of a rogue anti-spyware security application, also made its mark in 2007.

This past year, the NUWAR (Storm) botnet expanded in scope. Trend Micro researchers learned that the Storm botnet is renting its services to malicious hackers and its spamming capabilities rented out to spammers — evidence that botnet threats are becoming more prevalent and sophisticated. During 2007, the most popular communication protocol among botnet owners was still Internet Relay Chat possibly because software to create IRC bots is widely available and easily implemented.

Security threats are no longer limited to PCs. Mobile devices, as they become more advanced and powerful, are at risk for the same types of threats as PCs (viruses, spam, Trojans, malware, etc.) Gadgets with wireless capabilities such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as storage capability have become major sources of data leaks and carriers of infections through security perimeters.

Other notable findings from the report:

  • The Windows Animated Cursor exploit (EXPL_ANICMOO) encompassed over 50 percent of all exploit codes to hit the Internet computing population. 74 percent of its infections this year came from Asia. The same holds true for TROJ_ANICMOO.AX, a related threat which embedded the exploit. 64 percent of computers infected with this were from China.
  • The top malware finding was WORM_SPYBOT.IS and WORM_GAOBOT.DF. Both created botnets and worms that infected USB-connected devices.
  • Nearly 50 percent of all threat infections come from North America, but Asian countries are also experiencing a growth — 40 percent of infections stem from that region.
  • Social networking communities and user-created content such as blog sites became infection vectors due to attacks on their underlying Web 2.0 technologies, particularly cross-site scripting and streaming technologies.
  • Infection volumes nearly quadrupled between September and November 2007, indicating that malware authors took advantage of the holiday seasons as an opportunity to send spam or deploy spyware while users are shopping online.
  • In 2007, the top online commerce site attacked by phishers was still global auction site eBay and sister company PayPal. Financial institutions, especially those based in North America, also experienced a high volume of phishing attacks.