Hackers switching sights to profitable soft targets

Cybercrime has shot up in the last six months with hackers becoming more interested in stealing data for profit than in destroying it, according to a report from Symantec.

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By  Dylan Bowman Published  March 19, 2006

Cybercrime has shot up in the last six months with hackers becoming more interested in stealing data for profit than in destroying it, according to a report from Symantec. The security giant’s latest Internet Security Threat Report revealed there had been a continuing shift away from attacks intended to destroy data, with 80% of the top 50 malicious code samples from the second half of 2005 being threats that could reveal confidential information. The firm said this was a continuation of the trend it spotted in its last Threat Report, with such threats rising 6% on the previous six months. Another worrying trend that seems to have continued into the second half of last year is the shift away from hackers launching large, multiple purpose attacks against traditional security devices such as firewalls and routers and instead focusing their efforts on regional targets, and desktops and web applications. “Hackers are looking for the path of least resistance and they are looking to make money from it,” Kevin Isaac, regional director Symantec Middle East and Africa, told IT Weekly last year (See IT Weekly 24-30 September 2005). “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 then. Since the publication of the last Threat Report, there have been a number of hacking incidents affecting banks in the region, with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi last year warning customers it had been targeted by “phishing” attacks (See IT Weekly 15-21 October 2005). Globally, phishing threats rocketed in the second half of last year, with 7.92 million attempts a day being recorded by Symantec, compared to the 5.7 million per day in the first six months of 2005. “Cybercrime represents today’s greatest threat to consumers’ digital lifestyle and to online business in general,” said Arthur Wong, Symantec security response and managed security services vice president. One of the ways cybercrime-related threats were gaining momentum, the firm said, was through the use of crimeware — software tools built specifically for the purpose of committing online scams and stealing information from consumers and businesses. Symantec highlighted the importance of applying operating system and application patches quickly to prevent systems becoming easy targets after documenting 1,895 new software vulnerabilities, the largest number since 1998. The report details the growing trend of attackers using bot networks, targeted attacks on web applications and web brow- sers, and modular malicious code. Bots are programs that provide attackers with unauthorised control of a computer.

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