Evolving malware attack strategies exploit online user behavior

The popularity of social networking services and changes in online user behavior are driving broader attack strategies, including complex blended threats, faster malware lifecycles and search engine manipulation, according to a report by Blue Coat.

Malware adapts with rapid lifecycles
The average lifespan of malware dropped to two hours in 2009, from as many as seven hours in 2007, as cybercriminals responded to the increasing use and effectiveness of URL filtering at blocking malware sources. As a result of this faster malware lifecycle, defenses that require patches and downloads are unable to keep pace.

Social networking leads Internet access activity
Social networking sites led Internet access activity in 2009 and accounted for 25 percent of activity among the top 10 URL categories for 2009. Increased reliance on social networking for communication also meant less reliance on Web-based email, which dropped in popularity from fifth place in 2008 to ninth place in 2009.

Exploiting user trust drives most common threats
The two most common Web-based threats in 2009 – the fake antivirus software and the fake video codec – both exploited user trust in the Internet, search engines and social networks. These were not the “drive-by” attacks of recent years, nor did they require a vulnerability to exploit other than human behavior.

Malware lurks on unexpected sites
Online storage and software download sites were the most frequent hiding places for Web-based malware in 2009. The number of online storage sites grew 200 percent over the prior year, and this growth, coupled with the nature of the service, makes them an ideal and easily accessible malware storage location.

Advanced spyware drives increase in malware and phone-home sites
The number of malware sites (sites that store malware for download on victims’ computers) nearly doubled in 2009, but more surprising is the 500 percent increase in the number of malware effects sites (phone-home sites that collect data from an infected computer). This is largely attributable to the emergence of advanced spyware that generates multiple URLs for possible activity, increasing the likelihood that one or more of the URLs will remain undiscovered long enough for cybercriminals to retrieve stolen information.

Real-time analysis needed
The changing threat landscape is driving the evolution to a hybrid defense that unites traditional Web gateways with cloud-based intelligence that can provide real-time analysis and ratings and be extended to remote users.

Chris Larsen, senior malware researcher at Blue Coat Systems comments: “The increasing use of link farms to manipulate search engine results and prey on the trust users have in their Internet experience drove many of the malware exploits we saw in 2009 and are continuing to see in 2010. To provide comprehensive protection in the face of these threats, enterprises need not only a layered defense but also better user education.”

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