A new report from the antivirus software provider Sophos has revealed that the number of new threats discovered this year has risen by 48pc. In total, the company identified 15,907 new malware threats during 2005.
The Sophos Security Threat Management Report 2005 has also found that on average, one in every 44 emails sent this year carried a virus. This rose to one in 12 during major outbreaks.
However, figures cited in the report also showed that many of the most common threats are not new. According to Sophos, the most widely circulating virus was Zafi.D, which was first discovered in December of last year. Last year’s most commonly found virus, Netsky.P, was in second place this year. However, the third-placed virus, Sober.Z, was in third place despite only having been launched last month.
Michael Conway, director at Renaissance Contingency Services, a Dublin-based IT security firm, said: “Old-timers may head up the top 10, but the enormous rise in the number of new threats shows that 2005 has been anything but quiet on the malware front.”
He attributed the 48pc rise in malware to criminal gangs looking to make a profit from Trojans, worms and viruses. “By focusing their efforts on a smaller number of victims, cyber criminals can target them with bespoke malware, increasing their chances of slipping under the security net,” he said.
The top 10 threats identified by Sophos are Windows-based worms, but the company found that new Trojan horse programs written this year outnumbered worms by a factor of almost two to one.
In addition, the percentage of malware that includes spyware components rose from 54.2pc at the start of the year to 66.4pc now. Sophos believes that this supports the theory that malware authors are engaging in targeted attacks, rather than widespread bombardment.
The Sophos report also revealed that unprotected computers have a 40pc chance of being infected by an internet worm within 10 minutes, turning them into a zombie machine that is capable of being controlled remotely by an attacker. Such computers now send out more than 60pc of spam mail and Sophos said that this rise could also be due to more targeted attacks.
Conway pointed out that unlike viruses or worms, Trojans cannot replicate on their own, therefore they must be deliberately emailed or planted on websites in order to spread. “It’s increasingly more common for new Trojans to become widespread after being spammed en masse from zombie computers,” he said. “It’s no surprise that most of the top 10 threats allow hackers to gain access to an infected PC, enabling them to create a zombie, steal information and dish out their malware from under the nose of unsuspecting users.”
The report, including the full top tend viruses and infections for 2005, can be downloaded from www.sophos.com/securityreport2005.
By Gordon Smith