Businesses are consumers’ worst security nightmare

4 Feb 2009

Cyber-criminals are literally turning businesses against their own customers in the ongoing effort to steal consumers’ personal data.

The latest IBM 2008 X-Force Trend and Risk report has found that corporations are unwittingly putting their own customers at risk for cyber-criminal activity.

It says there has been an alarming increase in attacks using legitimate business sites as launch pads for scams against consumers.

The new X-Force report identifies two main trends from 2008 that show how criminals are targeting the masses through website attacks.

First, websites have become the Achilles’ heel for corporate IT security. Attackers are intensely focused on attacking web applications so they can infect end-user machines.

Meanwhile, corporations are using off-the-shelf applications that are riddled with vulnerabilities, or even worse, custom applications that can host numerous unknown vulnerabilities which can’t be patched.

Last year more than half of all vulnerabilities disclosed were related to web applications, and of these, more than 74pc had no patch.

As a result, the large scale, automated SQL injection vulnerabilities that emerged in early 2008 have continued unabated. By the end of 2008, the volume of attacks jumped to 30 times the number of attacks initially seen this summer.

“The purpose of these automated attacks is to deceive and redirect web surfers to web-browser exploit toolkits,” said Kris Lamb, senior operations manager, X-Force Research and Development for IBM Internet Security Systems.

“This is one of the oldest forms of mass attack still in existence today. It is staggering that we still see SQL injection attacks in widespread use without adequate patching almost 10 years after they were first disclosed. Cyber-criminals target businesses because they provide an easy target to launch attacks against anyone that visits the web.”

The second major trend IBM X-Force revealed is that although attackers continue to focus on the browser and ActiveX controls as a way to compromise end-user machines, they are turning their focus to incorporate new types of exploits that link to malicious movies (for example, Flash) and documents (for example, PDFs).

In the fourth quarter of 2008 alone, IBM X-Force traced more than a 50pc increase in the number of malicious URLs hosting exploits than were found in all of 2007. Even spammers are turning to known websites for expanded reach. The technique of hosting spam messages on popular blogs and news-related websites more than doubled in the second half of this year.

The X-Force has been cataloguing, analysing and researching vulnerability disclosures since 1997.

With nearly 40,000 security vulnerabilities catalogued, it has the largest vulnerability database in the world.

By John Kennedy

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