Social networking sites: A fertile ground for cybercriminals

Social network platforms' growing popularity has, not surprisingly, attracted a large volume of malware (FILE)

2010 was a year of targeted attacks, social networking sites are a fertile ground for cybercriminals and mobile phone are also increasingly coming under attacks, these are some of the hair-raising findings revealed in the latest study.

A study by Symantec Corp. showed a massive more than 286 new threats last year, accompanied by several new megatrends in the threat landscape.

It also said that social networking sites are being used as an attack distribution platform with increasingly targeting vulnerabilities in Java to break into traditional computer systems.

2010: The year of the targeted attack

Targeted attacks such as Hydraq and Stuxnet posed a growing threat to enterprises in 2010.  To increase the likelihood of successful, undetected infiltration into the enterprise, an increasing number of these targeted attacks leveraged zero-day vulnerabilities to break into computer systems.  As one example, Stuxnet alone exploited four different zero-day vulnerabilities to attack its targets.

In 2010, attackers launched targeted attacks against a diverse collection of publicly traded, multinational corporations and government agencies, as well as a surprising number of smaller companies.  In many cases, the attackers researched key victims within each corporation and then used tailored social engineering attacks to gain entry into the victims’ networks.  Due to their targeted nature, many of these attacks succeeded even when victim organizations had basic security measures in place.

While the high-profile targeted attacks of 2010 attempted to steal intellectual property or caused physical damage, many targeted attacks preyed on individuals for their personal information. For example, the report found that data breaches caused by hacking resulted in an average of more than 260,000 identities exposed per breach in 2010, nearly quadruple that of any other cause. 

Social networks: A fertile ground for cybercriminals

Social network platforms continue to grow in popularity and this popularity has not surprisingly attracted a large volume of malware.  One of the primary attack techniques used on social networking sites involved the use of shortened URLs.  Under typical, legitimate, circumstances, these abbreviated URLs are used to efficiently share a link in an email or on a web page to an otherwise complicated web address. Last year, attackers posted millions of these shortened links on social networking sites to trick victims into both phishing and malware attacks, dramatically increasing the rate of successful infection.

The report found that attackers overwhelmingly leveraged the news-feed capabilities provided by popular social networking sites to mass-distribute attacks.  In a typical scenario, the attacker logs into a compromised social networking account and posts a shortened link to a malicious website in the victim’s status area.  The social networking site then automatically distributes the link to news feeds of the victim’s friends, spreading the link to potentially hundreds or thousands of victims in minutes.  In 2010, 65 percent of malicious links in news feeds observed by Symantec used shortened URLs. Of these, 73 per cent were clicked 11 times or more, with 33 per cent receiving between 11 and 50 clicks.

Mobile threat landscape comes into view

The major mobile platforms are finally becoming ubiquitous enough to garner the attention of attackers, and as such, Symantec expects attacks on these platforms to increase.  In 2010, most malware attacks against mobile devices took the form of Trojan Horse programs that pose as legitimate applications.  While attackers generated some of this malware from scratch, in many cases, they infected users by inserting malicious logic into existing legitimate applications.  The attacker then distributed these tainted applications via public app stores.  For example, the authors of the recent Pjapps Trojan employed this approach.

While the new security architectures employed in today’s mobile devices are at least as effective as their desktop and server predecessors, attackers can often bypass these protections by attacking inherent vulnerabilities in the mobile platforms’ implementations. Unfortunately, such flaws are relatively commonplace - Symantec documented 163 vulnerabilities during 2010 that could be used by attackers to gain partial or complete control over devices running popular mobile platforms.  In the first few months of 2011 attackers have already leveraged these flaws to infect hundreds of thousands of unique devices.

According to findings from Mocana, it is no surprise that 47 per cent of organisations do not believe they can adequately manage the risks introduced by mobile devices. And that more than 45 per cent of organisations say security concerns are one of the biggest obstacles to rolling out more smart devices.

“Stuxnet and Hydraq, two of the most visible cyber-events of 2010, represented true incidents of cyberwarfare and have fundamentally changed the threat landscape,” said Stephen Trilling, Senior Vice President, Symantec Security Technology and Response. “The nature of the threats has expanded from targeting individual bank accounts to targeting the information and physical infrastructure of nation states.”

Threat Landscape Key Facts and Figures:

• 286 million new threats – Polymorphism and new delivery mechanisms such as Web attack toolkits continued to drive up the number of distinct malware programs.  In 2010, Symantec encountered more than 286 million unique malicious programs.

• 93 per cent increase in Web-based attacks – Web attack toolkits drove the 93 per cent increase in the volume of Web-based attacks in 2010.  The use of shortened URLs also impacted this increase. 
•260,000 identities exposed per breach – This is the average number of identities exposed per breach in data breaches caused by hacking during 2010. 

• 14 new zero-day vulnerabilities – Zero-day vulnerabilities played a key role in targeted attacks including Hydraq and Stuxnet.  Stuxnet alone used four different zero-day vulnerabilities. 
•6,253 new vulnerabilities – Symantec documented more vulnerabilities in 2010 than in any previous reporting period. 

• 42 percent more mobile vulnerabilities – In a sign that cybercriminals are starting to focus their efforts on the mobile space, the number of reported new mobile operating system vulnerabilities increased, from 115 in 2009 to 163 in 2010. 

• $0.07 to $100 per credit card – The price for credit card data on underground forums ranged widely in 2010. Factors dictating prices include the rarity of the card and discounts offered for bulk purchases.

Print Email