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The Growth of Cybercrime

More people participate in cybercrime; threats continue to grow and evolve

Cybercrime saw significant growth in 2009. It increased in prevalence and geographic spread. The only thing that didn't grow was the skill level required to participate. It was easier for non-skilled attackers to conduct sophisticated attacks because of the availability of toolkits. The increase in manpower has led to an increase in most areas of cybercrime.

The growth of cybercrime has come despite a global recession that has stunted the growth of almost every other industry. The growth of cybercrime has been fueled by an increase in Internet users, especially those in developing countries.

However, businesses can protect their information from these pervasive dangers. Understanding the threat landscape is the first step. The following highlights from the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report XV can help organizations understand just what they're up against.

Cybercrime Keeps Growing
Malicious code is as prominent as ever. In 2009, Symantec identified more than 240 million distinct new malicious programs - a 100 percent increase over 2008. Last year Symantec blocked an average of 100 potential attacks per second.

Compromised confidential information continues to be an issue. Sixty percent of all data breaches that exposed identities were the result of hacking. This problem is not limited to a few larger enterprises. According to the Symantec State of Enterprise Security Report, 75 percent of all companies surveyed experienced some sort of cyber attack during the last year.

Cybercrime is a universal problem. Attackers have moved from using simple scams to launching highly sophisticated campaigns targeting some of the world's largest corporations and government entities. The scale of these attacks and the fact that they come from all over the world makes this an international problem requiring the cooperation of the private sector and global governments.

Less Skill Is Required to Engage in Cybercrime
The emergence of attack toolkits has made cybercrime available to anyone regardless of their computer knowledge and expertise. Novice computer users can purchase a kit and almost immediately begin deploying sophisticated and varied threats. Toolkits such as Zeus can be purchased for as little as $700. Some toolkits allow customization, resulting in many variants being created. Because there are an increasing number of cybercriminals entering the space, the number of threats is increasing and the number of people being affected is increasing as well.

Underground Economy a Bull
Credit cards and bank accounts continued to be the most advertised items on the underground economy in 2009 - illustrated in part by a notable increase in credit card dumps. Such dumps, which are sometimes referred to as cloned credit cards, increased by 150 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Social engineering tactics have changed to take advantage of the evolving financial landscape. More malicious messages incorporate themes such as refinancing loans, consolidating debt, reducing credit card interest rates, etc.

Enterprises Subject to More, Targeted Attacks
Cyber attacks are not just more sophisticated, they're also much more targeted. Many of them are full-fledged yet subtle campaigns. Cyber attacks remain undetected to penetrate deeply into the corporate network. While these targeted attacks have been occurring for several years, they have taken center stage recently, with incidents such as Hydraq.

Targeted attacks use zero-day vulnerabilities and spear-phishing type attacks. Attackers usually research a company and its employees by gathering information from corporate websites, news articles, social networks and other sites. Many targeted attacks aim to steal information about the organization's customers and employees, but other information - like intellectual property and corporate strategies - are also targeted.

Web-Based Attacks Are the Biggest Threat - and Are Getting Bigger
Four out of the top five attacks in 2009 targeted client-side vulnerabilities in widely used applications such as Internet Explorer and PDF readers. Suspicious PDF file downloads were the largest threat and accounted for 49 percent of all Web-based attacks, up from 11 percent in 2008.

Web browsers are also vulnerable - of the 374 vulnerabilities documented in Web browsers in 2009, 14 percent of them remain unpatched by the vendors. Firefox had the most vulnerabilities, but Internet Explorer was the most attacked. That difference illustrates cybercriminals' infatuation with market share.

What It Means
This data, as well as other information in the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, offers a perspective that can change the way users and businesses operate. It is a framework for understanding what's out there and how to navigate it.

For businesses, such navigation includes employing strategies designed to give in-depth defense, including multiple, overlapping and mutually supportive defensive systems to guard against single-point failures in any specific technology or protection methodology. Security provided by solutions such as antivirus software, firewalls and intrusion detection are crucial if an organization wants to protect its assets and its employees.

Besides ensuring personal computers and networks are protected, individual users also need to use good judgment. If websites are untested or seem questionable, users need to be alert and perhaps even stay away from those sites. Another precaution to consider is disabling scripting and active content when casually browsing the Web.

Cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated, but knowing what they are up to allows businesses and individuals to place themselves strategically in the safest position possible. If you implement the right policies within your organization and use the tools that exist, you can help guard against malicious software and keep your organization's infrastructure, and the information within, safe from cybercriminals.

More Stories By Marc Fossi

Marc Fossi manages research and development for Symantec Security Response where his primary role is executive editor of the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report. The Internet Security Threat Report offers analysis and discussion of Internet threat activity and covers Internet attacks, vulnerabilities, malicious code, phishing, spam and security risks, as well as future trends.

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