Software company CA is warning of an increase in sophistication in security threats against PC users in the months ahead, as attackers employ a range of techniques for stealing important information.
According to CA’s 2007 Internet Threat Outlook, the nature of attacks has been changing and this trend is set to continue. Trojan horse programs in particular are likely to be used a lot more in attacks against computer users. A trojan is a seemingly innocuous software program that contains or installs malicious code that runs when the user opens the file.
Unlike worms or viruses, which tend to be sent out in large numbers, trojans rely on the actions of an unsuspecting user in order to spread. Last year, they were by far the most prevalent form of new malware, CA found. Almost two thirds of new malicious programs (62pc) were trojans, whereas worms accounted for 24pc.
“Malware writers continue to blur the line between trojans, worms, viruses and spyware,” commented Brian Grayek, vice-president of Malicious Content Research for CA. “Spyware distributors have adopted the stealth techniques of virus and worm authors, and can now adapt quickly to uncover and exploit the slightest vulnerability.”
Grayek warned PC users to be careful when visiting websites – inadvertently downloading a trojan in the process – as attackers no longer need to entice them to open an email attachment in order to gain control of their machines or to steal personal data.
Other predictions for the year ahead include the continued evolution of blended threats. “As well as using spam to distribute trojans and other malware, attackers will increasingly use multi-phased exploits to take control of unsuspecting users’ computers, steal private information and perpetrate other attacks,” the report said.
Smarter phishing tactics will also emerge. CA said the social engineering techniques used to trick people into falling for email scams would be improved, targeting more knowledgeable users. Instead of fake banking emails with subject lines such as “to verify your account”, there will be more clever attempts such as “mail failure” notices that hide worms.
Spam is forecast to increase in 2007. The fourth quarter of last year saw a huge increase in spam, said CA. It attributed this growth mostly to image-based spam that is able to get past many anti-spam filters. As sending spam doesn’t cost a lot of money, CA said that cyber criminals will increasingly use this method to distribute trojans.
PC users are also advised not to trust some of the free anti-spyware programs that actually contain the malware they are supposed to prevent. “Instead of cleaning users’ computers, these attackers try to get money from users through deception,” said the report.
The document leaves the reader in no doubt that the motivation for these attacks and security breaches is financial. It opens with a quote attributed to the bank robber Willie Sutton, who explained the reason for choosing his targets: “Because that’s where the money is.”
By Gordon Smith