Economic cyber terrorism attacks forecast to rise in 2011

10 Nov 2010

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Next year could see more targeted attacks on website content as well as a new form of cyber attack that takes cyber terrorism onto the political and nationalistic stage.

When it comes to dangerous web threats, the only constant is change and gone are the days of predictable attack vectors, according to the Websense 2010 Threat Report.

Instead, modern blended threats such as Aurora, Stuxnet, and Zeus infiltrate organisations through a variety of co-ordinated tactics, usually a combination of two or more.

Phishing, compromised websites and social networking are carefully co-ordinated to steal confidential data, because in the world of cyber crime, content equals cash. the latest tactics have now moved to a political — and nationalistic — stage.

These conclusions are based on the analysis of Websense Security Labs researchers, who rely on their ThreatSeeker Network which every hour scans more than 40 million websites for malicious code and nearly 10 million emails for unwanted content and malicious code.

The 2010 evidence and metrics suggest that cyber criminals and their blended attacks are having a field day taking advantage of security gaps left open by legacy technologies like firewalls, antivirus and simple URL blockers.

Traditional defences don’t work

The report showcases how in today’s threat landscape, legacy defences simply don’t work. We all have antivirus, firewalls and proxies installed, but that isn’t enough.

Threats are no longer binary files delivered in attachments, they are script-based attacks and they are embedded in rich media like Flash. And many spread rapidly on the social web. Reputation filters provide zero security for threats delivered via top “legitimate” websites like Google, Facebook and YouTube, where 80pc of web traffic goes.

Cyber criminals know that legacy technology simply looks for known information (signatures) or reputation of previously identified threats, which is why they are so successful at exploiting existing defences.

Most of today’s blended attacks are considered “zero-day," in that they have not been previously identified. They are ever-evolving and pre-tested by cyber criminals on common anti-virus products before they are released. These threats sail through firewalls and open channels.

“The continued rise of organised cyber criminal gangs and the emergence of targeted advanced malware threats are the most concerning trend we’ve seen,” said Dan Hubbard, chief technology officer, Websense.

“Security needs to move ahead of the attackers and focus on contextual classification in order to thwart them. Simple binary access controls and castle and moat security will not solve the complex attacks we see today. These are precisely the type of threats we have in mind when we build Websense security products.”

Social cyber terrorism

In 2010, cyber criminals adapted their strategies to address the social websites and sites with dynamic user-generated content. Attacks are now more blended, sophisticated and targeted. Many of these attacks use new tricks and methods of delivery.

Script-based attacks, blended email campaigns and SEO poisoning were all common in 2010. Even the most easily detected threats and botnets were successfully repurposed with variations that often allow them to slip through outdated defences. The majority of attacks in 2010 focused on the same thing: stealing data.

“Whether it is your company’s sensitive financial information, your social networking or online banking credentials, that content has tremendous value,” said Devin Redmond, vice-president of business development, product management and marketing, Websense.

“With so many intertwined vectors, these threats demand a new approach to security that looks at both inbound and outbound content. To protect against today’s blended and sophisticated threats, companies need to plug the spaces left by a scattershot spraying of point solutions and move to a unified security architecture that protects their content.”

In the report, Websense Security Labs also predicts threat trends for 2011. Included in the predictions is an analysis of future blended threats, terrorism and data loss over the dynamic web that demonstrates the potential for targeted 2011 cyber terrorism attacks.

Significant findings from the Websense 2010 Threat Report affirm that while broad threats continue, focused, targeted attacks are on the rise. Findings include:

·        111.4pc increase in the number of malicious websites from 2009 to 2010

·        79.9pc of websites with malicious code were legitimate sites that have been compromised

·        52pc of data-stealing attacks were conducted over the web

·        34pc of malicious web/HTTP attacks included data-stealing code

·        89.9pc of all unwanted emails in circulation during this period contained links to spam sites and/or malicious websites

·        The United States and China continued to be the top 2 countries hosting crimeware and receiving stolen data during 2010; the Netherlands has found its way into the top 5

·        Searching for breaking news represented a higher risk (22.4pc) than searching for objectionable content (21.8pc)

·        23pc of real-time search results on entertainment lead to a malicious link

·        40pc of all Facebook status updates have links and 10pc of those links are either spam or malicious.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com