Spam and botnets at an all time high

Spam volumes have increased 141 percent since March, continuing the longest streak of increasing spam volumes ever, according to McAfee’s Q2 Threats Report. The report also highlights the dramatic expansion of botnets and the threat from Auto-Run malware.

More than 14 million computers have been enslaved by cybercriminal botnets, a 16 percent increase over last quarter’s rise. The report confirmed McAfee’s first quarter prediction that the surge in botnet growth would send spam levels to new heights, surpassing their previous peak in October 2008 before the takedown of the spam-hosting ISP McColo.

McAfee researchers also found that, over the course of 30 days, Auto-Run malware had infected more than 27 million files. Auto-Run malware, which exploits Windows’ Auto-Run capabilities, does not require any user clicks to activate, and is most often spread through portable USB and storage devices. The rate of detection surpasses even that of the infamous Conficker worm by 400 percent, making Auto-Run the number one piece of malware detected around the world.

Botnet growth drives cyberattacks, spam growth

Fourteen million additional computers have been turned into botnets this quarter. That averages to more than 150,000 computers infected every day, or 20 percent of the personal computers bought daily (Source: Gartner 2009). South Korea displayed the largest boost in bot activity; the nation saw a 45 percent increase in new infected computers over the last quarter. Such botnets were used to execute the DDoS cyberattacks against the White House, the New York Stock Exchange and South Korean government Web sites in early July.

While the growth in South Korea is substantial, it only accounts for less than four percent of the world’s new bots. The United States tops the list with 15 percent of the new zombie computers.

Botnet expansion is also the main driver in the increasing volume of spam, which is now 92 percent of all email. Spam volumes have now exceeded the highest volume on record by 20 percent, increasing at a steady rate of roughly 33 percent each month. In other words, spam volumes grow by over 117 billion emails every day.

Cybercrime as a service

As the number of bots continues to grow, malware writers have begun to offer malicious software as a service to those who control botnets. By exchanging or selling resources, cybercriminals distribute new malware to wider audiences instantaneously. Programs like Zeus – an easy-to-use Trojan creation tool – continue to make the creation and management of malware even easier.

Cybercriminals target Twitter and social networks

Twitter’s growth in popularity has made it a new target for cybercriminals in the last three months. Malware like the “Mikeey” worm and new variations of the Koobface Trojan attack users through tweets and abbreviated URLs.

Spam Twitter accounts are becoming increasingly prevalent. Twitter administrative accounts have also been hacked on multiple occasions, giving cybercriminals access to the private accounts of celebrities and politicians, such as Britney Spears and Barack Obama and even allowing for the publication of sensitive internal strategy and finance documents to be posted on the Web.

Facebook and MySpace remain strong attack vectors for cybercriminals. In May, spam messages on social networks pointed users to 4300 new Koobface files.




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