Adoption of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets in the enterprise, including the “Bring Your Own Device” approach, which allows personal devices to access the corporate network, is raising new security concerns.
IBM X-Force has documented a steady rise in the disclosure of security vulnerabilities affecting these devices. X-Force is projecting that the year 2011 will see twice the number of mobile exploit releases that occurred in 2010. Many mobile phone vendors do not rapidly push out security updates for their devices.
Malicious software targeting mobile phones is often distributed through third-party app markets. Mobile phones are an increasingly attractive platform for malware developers as the sheer size of the user base is growing rapidly, and there is an easy way to monetize mobile phone infections.
Critical vulnerabilities triple in 2011
The X-Force team reports that the percentage of critical vulnerabilities has tripled thus far in 2011. X-Force is declaring 2011 the “Year of the Security Breach” due to the large number of high-profile attacks and network compromises that have occurred this year.
There is a cadre of notable emerging threats from this year’s breaches:
- Teams of professional attackers motivated by a desire to collect strategic intelligence have been able to gain and maintain access to critical computer networks through a combination of stealth, sophisticated technical capabilities and careful planning. These attackers are often referred to as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).
- The success of APTs has raised the profile of “whaling,” a type of spear phishing which targets “big fish,” or those positioned in high levels of an organization with access to critical data. These targeted attacks are often launched after careful study of a person’s online profiles has armed an attacker with the information needed to create a compelling phishing email that the victim will be fooled into clicking on.
- Attacks from ‘hacktivist’ groups, who targeted web sites and computer networks for political ends rather than just financial gain. Hacktivist groups have been successful in using well known, off-the-shelf attack techniques such as SQL Injection, which is one of the most common attack techniques seen in the Internet.
- Anonymous proxies have more than quadrupled in number compared to three years earlier. Anonymous proxies are a critical type of website to track, because they allow people to hide potentially malicious intent.
Malware distributors can set up premium texting (SMS messaging) services that charge users that text to a specific number. Malware then sends text messages to those premium numbers from infected phones.
Some mobile malware is designed to collect end user’s personal information. This data could then be used in phishing attacks or for identity theft. Mobile malware is often capable of spying on victim’s personal communications as well as monitoring and tracking their physical movements via the GPS capabilities common in these phones.
Advances in security highlighted
Although the X-Force team declared 2011 as a watershed in high-profile security breaches, the report also uncovered some improvements in areas of computer security that show headway in the fight against crime on the Internet.
The first half of 2011 saw an unexpected decrease in web application vulnerabilities, from 49 percent of all vulnerability disclosures down to 37 percent. This is the first time in five years X-Force has seen a decrease.
High and critical vulnerabilities in web browsers were also at their lowest point since 2007, despite an increasingly complex browser market. These improvements in web browser and application security are important as many attacks are targeted against those categories of software.
As major botnet operators are taken down and off-line by law enforcement officials, the report shows a trend in the decline of spam and more traditional phishing tactics.
After years of consistent spam growth until the middle of 2010, there has been a significant decline in spam volumes in the first half of this year.
In the first half of 2011, the percentage of spam that is phishing on a weekly basis was less than 0.01 percent. Traditional phishing has greatly declined from the levels X-Force was seeing prior to the middle of 2010.