Hackers drop viruses to spread infections

Hackers are going underground. The greatest danger to users’ computers now lies with hidden threats rather than withheadline grabbing virus attacks, security experts have warned.

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By  Diana Milne Published  September 25, 2005

Hackers are going underground. The greatest danger to us-ers’ computers now lies with hidden threats rather than withheadline grabbing virus attacks, security experts have warned. The number of bot-infected computers — PCs that have been infected by worms or trojans and then used by hackers for their own purposes — has doubled in the past six months, security software firm Symantec has warned in its latest Internet Security Threat Report, which was published last week. “There have only been three major worm attacks since January 2004 — that’s a decrease in terms of the activity we are physically seeing,” said Kevin Isaac, regional director Symantec Middle East North Africa, at a press conference to preview the report. “But actually a lot more activity is happening below the line and in computers that you don’t know about,” he claimed. While virus writers and hackers were previously motivated by fame and notoriety, they are often now more interested in profit, Symantec revealed. Hackers are looking to steal information, rather than raise their profile and will take it where they can, the firm said. Symantec went on to note that often, hackers will look at stealing information such as bank details from an end-user’s desktop rather than risk breaking into an enterprise network. “Hackers are looking for the path of least resistance and they are looking to make money from it,” said Isaac. “If they can attack a web server and hack into someone’s home computer to get their password to the server then why should they hack into a bank?,” he asked. The recent spate of hacking attacks on banks in the region (see IT Weekly 2- 8 July 2005) were blamed by the banks’ themselves as being due to poor security on customers’ laptops, rather than a breach of banking systems. Other security companies echoed Symantec’s concerns last week. “Security is always a hot topic, but its getting more and more dense,” said Raimund Genes, Trend Micro’s president of European operations and its chief technologist. “Not due to the fact that you see more and more viruses, the concern is that you see less and less,” he noted. Genes also sees botnets as the greatest threat: “What you see nowadays is really targeted malware which updates itself, has backdoor capability… this is common now,” he said. “You plant self-spreading malware, or it changes your computer settings, so every time it starts up it ensures, as an attacker, you have full control over the PC,” Genes stated. Symantec’s Threat Report also reveals that small businesses are facing a major threat from denial of service attacks. These attacks, which stop part of a network service from working, grew from an average of 119 per day to 927 per day during the first half of 2005 — a 680% increase since the last reporting period. Isaac said there has been a shift towards attacking small businesses: “They are now the second most attacked sector behind education.” “That makes it very relevant to the Middle East,” he added. The increased uptake in broadband in the region has increased the rate at which malicious code can spread across the internet, a factor which replicates the experience in other countries where broadband usage increased, Symantec said.

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