100pc increase in worms infecting enterprises, Microsoft says

3 Nov 2009

The first half of 2009 has seen worm infections in enterprises rise by nearly 100pc, according to the seventh volume of Microsoft’s Security Intelligence Report (SIRv7).

Rogue security software remains a major threat to customers; however, 20pc fewer customers were affected by rogue infections during the past six months.

In addition, the Zlob family of trojans, considered a top threat two years ago, has drastically declined due to Microsoft’s work to aggressively clean customer machines and customers’ diligence in applying software updates.

Examining threat

SIRv7 provides a deep, accurate view of the threat landscape country by country. For the first time, this report shares security best practices from countries that have consistently exhibited low malware infection. These best practices and security intelligence provide a valuable resource for business leaders who need to make accurate decisions based on the threats that are most pressing today.

“It’s been said that knowledge is power — and when it comes to security intelligence, a lack of accurate information can be detrimental to separating real threats from hype,” said Vinny Gullotto, general manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center.

“Microsoft is committed to providing not only security intelligence for our customers and the community, but also the most accurate and comprehensive view of the realities of the threat landscape.”

Worldwide customers

The security intelligence contained in SIRv7 is collected through a broad community of customers around the globe who share Microsoft’s goal of obtaining the most accurate view of the threat landscape.

Reporting mechanisms for the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report are diverse and comprehensive, including Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), on 450 million computers worldwide; Bing, which performed billions of web page scans during the past six months; Windows Live OneCare and Windows Defender, operating on more than 100 million computers worldwide; Forefront Online Protection for Exchange and Forefront Client Security, scanning billions of email messages yearly; and Windows Live Hotmail, operating in more than 30 countries with hundreds of millions of active e-mail users.

Ten years after Melissa appeared and defined mass-mailing worms as a class of malicious threats, worm infections have resurged to become the second most prevalent threat for enterprises in the first half of 2009.

What worms look for

Worms rely heavily on access to unsecured file shares and removable storage volumes, both of which are plentiful in enterprise environments. According to SIRv7, the following were the Top 2 families detected:

Conficker was the top worm threat detected for the enterprise, because its method of propagation works more effectively within a firewalled network environment. Conficker is not in the Top 10 for consumers, because home computers are more likely to have automatic updating enabled. This further reiterates the need for enterprises to have a robust security update management program in place.

Taterf, with detections up 156pc since the second half of 2008, targets massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). These attacks rely less on social engineering to spread, and more on access to unsecured file shares and removable storage volumes — both of which are often plentiful in the enterprise. Taterf’s impressive growth underscores the need for organisations to develop guidelines for removable drives (such as thumb drives) and evaluate how connections are made to outside machines.

The largest threat

According to the report, rogue security software remained the single largest threat category for the first half of 2009. In addition, while there has been progress combating rogues, this threat remained a major pain point for computer users during the same period.

Also known as “scareware,” rogue security software takes advantage of customers’ desire to keep their computer protected. Microsoft products and services removed malware from more than 13 million computers worldwide, down from 16.8 million in the second half of 2008. Computer users are advised to use an anti-malware solution from a company they trust and to keep its threat definitions up to date.

In contrast, the report highlights the significant decrease in Zlob disinfections, from 21.1 million at its peak in 2007 to 2.3 million in the first half of 2009 — a remarkable tenfold decrease.

 By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years