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Security threat report
© Copyright 2008. Sophos Plc.
All registered trademarks and copyrights are understood and recognized by Sophos.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any
form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers.
Security threat report: 2008
The world of malware fundamentally changed in 2007, as
hackers fully embraced the web as their primary route for
infecting computers. As more computer users have defended
their email gateways with security solutions, cybercriminals
are planting malicious code on innocent websites, lying in
wait for victims to come to them and be silently infected.
Whereas virus writers of ten years ago were typically
creating code for mischief, today’s attacks are organized,
commercial endeavors designed to steal information and
resources from the computers of victims for one reason
above any other: to make money. The scale of their global
criminal operations have reached such a height that Sophos
discovers a new infected webpage every 14 seconds – 24
hours a day, 365 days a year.
It has also become clear that malware is more than a
Microsoft problem. Although the number of Windows threats
overshadows attacks against any other platform, financiallymotivated cybercriminals are turning their attention to
alternative platforms such as Apple Macintosh and web
servers running Apache. This trend seems likely to continue
in 2008, and we may see the emergence of new threats
against portable Wi-Fi enabled devices such as the iPhone,
iPod Touch and ultra-mobile PCs.
2007 at a glance
Hackers use the web to infect users – malicious
code increasingly embedded on high-traffic websites
or adverts
Web threats – one new infected webpage discovered by
Sophos every 14 seconds, or 6,000 a day
Cybercrime reaches Apple – Mac users being targeted by
financially motivated hackers for the first time, proving
malware is not just a Windows problem
Threats to mobile and Wi-Fi users – iPhones, iPod
Touches, ultra-mobile PCs and others at greater
risk of attack and may encourage exploitation of
browser vulnerabilities
Information theft soars – scammers using stolen data to
craft targeted emails
State-sponsored cyberwarfare cited – but no evidence of
the danger made public
Pessimism reigns – public not confident that IT
security will improve in 2008 following
headline-making incidents
International authorities stepping up to the mark –
law-enforcement around the world at last seeing
punishment fit the crime
It remains paramount for businesses to defend themselves
at all levels of their organization - not only do they need to
secure their email and web gateways, but also to ensure that
networks and endpoints are comprehensively protected
in 2008 against the myriad of threats posed by the
criminal underground.
Sophos security threat report
Web threats
Web threats in 2007
Mal/Iframe 53.3%
Mal/ObfJS 9.8%
Web threats continue to be cybercriminals’ preferred
approach for delivering malware. Sophos currently sees
6,000 new infected webpages each day – one infected
page every 14 seconds. Only about 1 in 5 of these sites is a
hacker site, i.e. malicious in intent; 83 percent are hacked
sites, or legitimate websites that have been compromised by
an unauthorized third-party.
Surfers are often lured to these compromised webpages
via emails which use social engineering tactics to attract
unsuspecting users1. In other examples, hackers place
their malicious code on sites which they know have a high
number of visitors. Once the site is infected, unwary visitors
without web security, firewall or patches on their PCs, can
themselves be infected.
The content of these sites varies dramatically. Just some
examples of the wide variety of sites that SophosLabs has
seen hacked to host malware in a typical month are:
Art galleries
Christian ministry
Computer network cabling
Escort agencies
Holiday property rental
Ice-cream making
Landscape gardening
Organic produce
Oven cleaning
Poker event organization
Political activism
Printing and graphics
Tyre supply
Web design.
Because of the range of subjects that hacked sites cover,
blocking sites by content is not sufficient to protect users
against these threats. A security solution to protect innocent
computer users can help block web access to sites
hosting malware.
Sophos security threat report
Troj/Decdec 6.6%
Troj/Psyme 6.2%
Troj/Fujif 5.8%
JS/EncIFra 3.9%
Troj/Ifradv 2.4%
Mal/Packer 1.2%
Troj/Unif 1.0%
VBS/Redlof 0.8%
Other 9.0%
Top ten malware found on the web in 2007
Accounting for over half of all web-based threats in
January to December 2007, was Mal/Iframe, which has
dominated the charts from April. Particularly rampant
in China, although also seen affecting websites hosted
elsewhere, a growing number of web-based attacks look for
vulnerabilities on legitimate hosted websites and injecting
malicious code onto the site.
In June 2007, Mal/Iframe was found to have infected more
than 10,000 legitimate Italian websites, including sites
belonging to high-profile organizations like city councils,
employment services and tourism sites. Most of the
affected pages appeared to be hosted by one of the largest
ISPs in Italy2.
Mal/ObfJS, an obfuscated malicious script, has also affected
many legitimate websites, for example the US Consulate
General’s in St Petersburg, Russia in October3 (despite the
fact that protection had been available in anti-virus products
since May 2007).
The US Consulate General removed the malicious
code quickly and efficiently, but the fact that such a
knowledgeable and security-conscious organization could
become infected highlights the seriousness of the
web threat.
Where is malware hosted?
The results of research into which countries contain the
most malware-hosting websites reveal some significant
changes over last year’s top ten list.
Making your web server more secure
Don’t install any unnecessary components on the
server – more code means more vulnerabilities for
hackers to exploit
Sign up to your operating system
security notifications
Patch all operating systems and any applications
with official security fixes
Run up-to-date anti-virus software on the web
server, regardless of what operating system you
are using.
China 51.4%
United States 23.4%
Russia 9.6%
Ukraine 3.0%
Germany 2.3%
Poland 0.9%
United Kingdom 0.7%
France 0.7%
Canada 0.7%
IIS users
Do not enable directory browsing unless you really
need it –why show visitors (malicious or legitimate)
all the files on your system?
Disable any FrontPage server extensions that are not
being used.
Netherlands 0.7%
Others 6.6%
Top ten malware hosting countries in 2007
China has moved from second place in 2006, when it
accounted for just over 30 percent of infected websites,
and now dominates the chart, with more than 50 percent
of infected websites. Unfortunately whether a website is
based in China is not necessarily obvious from its domain
name, and so just avoiding websites ending in .cn will not
significantly reduce your chances of being attacked by a
China-hosted website.
The US has dropped from the top position, where it
accounted for 34 percent of malware-infected websites in
2006, and accounts for less than a quarter this past year.
Poland is a new addition to this list, with 1 in 100
malicious webpages being hosted there. The Netherlands,
which held fourth position in 2006, has managed to drop
to tenth place, but still accounts for unusually large number
of malicious sites, given its population and infrastructure.
Sophos worked with computer crime authorities in The
Netherlands last year to help them identify websites hosting
malware so that they could be dealt with.
Apache users
Deny “all resources” by default and only allow the
necessary functionality to each specific resource
Log all web requests to allow you to spot
suspicious activity.
Writing safer code
Always initialize global variables (avoiding the
danger of them being initialized by a fake GET or
POST request)
Turn off error reporting and log to file instead
(making it more difficult for hackers to get the
information they need)
Never trust any user input or output, so use filter
functions to strip out special SQL characters and
escape sequences.
For further advice on securing your web server read the
SophosLabs technical paper Securing Websites4.
Sophos security threat report
What web servers are being infected?
At the end of 2007, SophosLabs looked at a snapshot of
the millions of web servers infected worldwide, closely
examining over 50,000 to see what operating system they
were running. The findings are in line with research done by
Sophos in the first half of 2007, with almost 50 percent of
the malware found on servers running Apache, and about
40 percent running Microsoft IIS.
As evidenced in other areas, malware affecting web servers
is not just a Windows problem. A large number of Apache
servers are hosted on Linux or some flavor of UNIX, and
many administrators consider these systems to be much
less vulnerable to attacks. While it is true that there is less
malware written to target Linux and UNIX, the websites are
not necessarily safe from attack. This is because the attacks
target the website – not just the server – and often attempt to
embed secret scripts or redirection malicious code.
Sophos security threat report
Websites hosting malware, split by web server type
Email threats
Threats spreading via email file attachment continued their
decline, as hackers and malicious code writers turn to the
web to host their attacks:
No of emails with infected attachments
1 in 44
1 in 337
1 in 909
However, although malicious email attachments have
reduced in percentage terms, emails containing links to
malicious websites continue to pose a growing problem to
computer users.
Mal/HckPk 23.7%
W32/Netsky 19.9%
W32/Mytob 13.2%
Troj/Dorf 10.1%
W32/Zafi 4.8%
W32/Stratio 4.6%
W32/Sality 3.4%
W32/MyDoom 3.4%
W32/Bagle 2.6%
Troj/Pushdo 2.0%
Others 12.3%
Top ten threats spread by email attachments in 2007
Top of the chart of malware threats spreading via email file
attachments, and responsible for about a quarter of all such
threats seen in the last year, is HckPk. It gets its name from
the use that it makes of encryption and packing technology
to try to bypass security filters. Like Mytob and Dorf (also
known as Storm) there are thousands of variants that make
up this family.
Netsky, Mytob, Zafi, MyDoom and Bagle are wellestablished malware families that have been around
for several years and continue to spread on
unprotected computers.
Although mass-mailing worms have dropped from malware
writers’ favor, Dorf blended this older technique with other
newer techniques to infect computers.
Sophos security threat report
Storm of Malware – a chronology
The Storm worm, also known as Dref or Dorf, was 2007’s
most disruptive threat, with around 50,000 variants seen
over the course of 2007.
The criminals behind the Storm attack used topical news
stories, electronic greeting cards, videos and fear tactics to
lure people into opening their widely spammed-out emails
and click on their malicious links.
Early January 2007: Starting as Happy New Year malware5
which spread malicious greetings via email attachments, the
hackers changed their tack in January using news-related
events to encourage recipients to click on what claimed
to be video content. One of these disguises, which had
subject lines such as “230 dead as storm batters Europe”6,
gave the worm its popular name of Storm.
Late January 2007: The Storm worm turned to love in
a major new attack as St Valentine’s Day approached7,
and in the run-up to US Independence Day on 4th of
July8 the malware gang aggressively took advantage of
the celebrations with another malicious ecard campaign.
On this occasion, the email contained a web link to
compromised zombie computers hosting a Trojan horse.
November 2007: The hackers tried to scare email users
into believing their telephone conversations were being
recorded11, but the ruse was designed to get people to buy
bogus security software. In reality, however, the attached
MP3 file was a malicious executable program that installed
further malware onto the victim’s computer which it
downloaded from a dangerous website. Amongst these
was a piece of scareware which displayed a fake Windows
Security Center alert and tried to convince the victim to
purchase bogus security software.
December 2007: The criminal hackers behind the Storm
malware showed no signs of letting up and continued
their offensive attacks, sending emails claiming to point to
websites offering pictures of a stripping “Mrs Clause”12 and
Happy New Year messages13.
August 2007: Storm used a wave of malicious emails
which posed as links to YouTube videos9, and then posed
as links to music videos of popstars like Beyoncé, Rihanna
and The Eagles. If infected, hackers could use victims’
computers to steal personal information, spam out malware
and junk email, or launch distributed denial-of-service
attacks against innocent parties.
September 2007: The Storm worm took advantage of
the NFL Kickoff weekend10 and spammed out an email
campaign with links to a hacked website, which would drop
malicious code onto insufficiently protected computers.
Sophos security threat report
Where is malware written?
Detection evasion
Forensic analysis by SophosLabs to determine where
malware has been written has revealed some interesting
differences in the motives and tactics used by different
hacking groups around the globe. For instance, 21 percent
of all malware is written in China. This is a smaller
proportion than in 2006 when the republic’s hackers
accounted for 30 percent of the malicious code seen.14
There is an arsenal of techniques that can be used to try to
evade detection by anti-malware products. One of the most
common techniques is server-side polymorphism.
China Brazil Russia
% of malware written
Most of the Chinese malware takes the form of backdoors,
but there is also a proportion of Chinese malicious software
whose motive is to steal passwords from online gamers.
Brazil accounts for 12.5 percent of the malware that has
been analyzed by SophosLabs. The majority of the code
written in the South American country is Trojan horses,
designed to steal information from online banks. Russian
hackers, meanwhile, are responsible for 9.2 percent of
the malware seen, mostly creating backdoors that allow
cybercriminals to gain access to compromised computers.
SophosLabs estimates that threats from rootkit technology
account for about 7 percent of all malware, including highprofile malware, such as Pushdo and Dorf.
Viruses have used polymorphic technology since the early
1990s to mutate their appearance on each infection, in
effect making each sample of the malware unique. Serverside polymorphism, however, uses code on the webserver
to generate mutated malware. In the past, anti-malware
vendors could detect polymorphic viruses by identifying
the mutation engine’s code. However, with server-side
polymorphism, the code which mutates the malware is
left on the web server, making it impossible to identify the
mutation engine as it is not present in the brand new oneoff variant of the malware.
Other techniques often used by malware include encryption,
obfuscation and rapidly changing code with potentially
automated builds. Obfuscation is particularly frequently
used in script-based malware.
These techniques are often used to prevent generic detection
techniques. For example, the author of Pushdo – a hacker
who spent much of 2007 attempting to infect unwary
computer users with the promise of naked pictures of
Angelina Jolie15 – often adds junk (do nothing) instructions,
changes the first few bytes of the code, uses encryption
of strings commonly present in malicious software and
reorders the sequence and the way of calling Windows
system functions.
There is a renewed interest in rootkits, thanks to hardwareassisted virtualization technologies available in both Intel
and AMD processors. Proof-of-concept source code of a
hardware virtualization rootkit known as Blue Pill was made
publicly available at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas
in August 2006. Virtualization rootkits are supposed to sit
deviously between the host hardware and the virtualized
subsystem (the guest) to make malware hard or impossible
to detect.
In spite of this, SophosLabs does not anticipate that
hardware-assisted virtualization-based rootkits will become
a significant threat in the near future as they are very
complex and rely heavily on hardware extensions that vary
from processor to processor. Standard detection techniques,
such as on-access scanning, are well suited for detection of
malicious hypervisors before install (as the malware arrives
on the system).
Sophos security threat report
Detection techniques
Alongside the growing amount of new malware which
tries to bypass security measures, there have also been
significant technological advances in detection techniques.
To combat the threat of zero-day attacks, and new malware
and spyware attacks, security leaders have been looking
at behavioral or proactive protection as a method to stop
unknown malware from running on a victim machine. This
type of protection looks at what a piece of code wants to do,
decides whether the action is legitimate or malicious, and
acts accordingly.
Unfortunately the implementation of this technology is not
trivial and the different approaches taken by some of the
industry leaders had varying degrees of success, as can be
seen in the results of tests performed by independent testing
laboratories, such as
Sophos 86%
Kaspersky 69%
Trend Micro 68%
F-Secure 67%
Symantec 66%
McAfee 55%
Microsoft 48%
ClamAV 42%
Proactive detection rates of new in-the-wild malware
Source: test, July–September 2007
Sophos security threat report
Spam remains a significant problem for business, with Sophos research revealing that 95 percent of all email is spam.
Sophos conducts analysis of all the spam messages received in the company’s global network of spam traps. Millions of new
messages from these honeypots are analyzed automatically every day, and are used to refine and update existing spam rules.
Occasionally, new techniques are used to try to bypass even the most successful spam filters. When a message is sufficiently
different from any previously analyzed by the Sophos spam engines, analysis by researchers establishes whether the
message is legitimate or not. Illegitimate emails using new techniques are immediately fed into the spam rules, ensuring
that customers are protected against any campaigns using these new techniques.
Dirty dozen
Pump-and-dump spam
2007 brings some interesting changes to the chart of the
12 countries relaying the most spam.
Pump-and-dump stock campaigns remain a significant
problem. They work by spammers purchasing stock at a
cheap price and then artificially inflating it by encouraging
others to purchase more (often by spamming “good news”
about the company to others). The spammers then sell off
their stock at a profit.
United States 22.5%
South Korea 6.5%
China (incl HK) 6.0%
Poland 4.9%
Russia 4.7%
Brazil 3.8%
France 3.5%
Germany 3.5%
Turkey 3.1%
August 2007 saw a colossal spike in spam volume for
24 hours due to a single pump-and-dump campaign that
urged potential investors worldwide to purchase stock in a
company called Prime Time Group.17
Spain 2.7%
Italy 2.7%
India 2.6%
Other 33.5%
Dirty Dozen: the top spam-relaying countries in 2007
The top three this year have led the chart since the
inception of the threat report in 2005.
The United States, responsible for sending about a fifth
of all the spam in the world for the last few years, needs
to tackle this problem urgently. Not only is the problem
polluting our inboxes with unwanted emails – some of
which will go to malicious or infected websites – it also
means that a large number of US computers, most likely
those run by home users, are infected. Educating users
on how to protect their system against a compromise is
paramount to the US’s success in its war against spam.
Despite holding onto the same chart positions, the
proportion of spam-relaying reported from China has
significantly diminished. In 2006, Chinese compromised
machines sent more than 15 percent of the world’s spam,
whereas in 2007, they more than halved this number.
In contrast, the US and South Korea have made no
significant impact on the problem of spam being relayed via
their countries.
Prior to 2007, pump-and-dump spam campaigns typically
attempted to influence the stock price of small North
American companies. During 2007, however, Sophos
experts noticed a shift in tactics as cybercriminals
increasingly tried to manipulate European stocks.18
This increased targeting of non-American companies might
well be because US authorities have taken stronger action to
defuse the criminal activity. For instance, in March 2007,
in “Operation Spamalot”, the Securities and Exchange
Commission (SEC) suspended trading on 35 companies
mentioned in stock manipulation campaigns.19
Sophos security threat report
As security vendors have become more proficient in
intercepting stock spam at email gateways, stockmanipulating hackers have turned to more elaborate
methods to get their messages in front of internet users. For
example, PDF files, JPGs and other image attachments are
used to carry the message in the hope that this type of file
will be harder to identify as spam.
One of the more bizarre schemes was seen in October
2007 when a pump-and-dump spam campaign used MP3
music files in an attempt to manipulate share prices20. Files
posing as music from stars such as Elvis Presley, Fergie
and Carrie Underwood actually contained a monotone voice
encouraging people to buy shares in a little-known company.
User response to spam
One of the main reasons spammers invest their resources
into devising new techniques is that spam works – and
looks increasingly successful. In a Sophos web poll
conducted in February 2007, 5 percent of respondents
admitted to buying goods sold via spam. In a second poll
conducted in November 2007, the figure had risen to a
concerning 11 percent.21
Are you a spammer?
Virtually all spam comes from compromised
computers (called “bots” or “zombies”) that have
been successfully attacked and now, unbeknown to
their owners, are sending out large volumes of spam,
launching distributed denial-of-service attacks, or
stealing confidential information.
Having up-to-date anti-virus protection, installing
and running a firewall, and ensuring that all security
patches are in place for both the operating system
and any installed applications, will significantly
lower the likelihood of being compromised.
Sophos ZombieAlert Service22 identifies business
computers that have been hijacked and which are
sending out emails on behalf of the spammers.
Sophos security threat report
Apple and threats and the future
One of the most significant developments of 2007 was
the rise of malware for Apple Mac computers. Although
malware for Apple Macs, and even the Mac OS X operating
system, has been seen before23 it has not encountered
anything like the number of viruses, Trojans and worms that
run on Microsoft Windows. This is largely because malware
writers have not felt it necessary to infect the computers of
Apple Mac owners when there have been so many poorly
protected Windows users available.
Now, however, financially motivated gangs have begun to
think that there is a viable reason to infect Macs alongside
Windows PCs.
In November 2007, Mac OS X malware made the headlines.
The functionality of the malicious program, known as OSX/
RSPlug24, was fairly simple. It modified settings to redirect
DNS requests to a server under the hacker control, allowing
hackers to serve up fake websites requiring usernames and
passwords, display adverts and so on.
Clicking on malicious email or web links takes the unwitting
computer user to a site hosting malware. The malicious
website examines the request made by the user’s web
browser and responds appropriately, depending on whether
the computer visiting the site is a Mac or Windows PC.
Apple Mac computers receive the OSX/RSPlug-Gen file,
which is not able to infect the Windows platform. A
Windows PC, however, receives the Zlobar-Fam Trojan.
This approach means that the malware authors can target a
much wider range of users with a single set of links – while
the Trojans themselves are not cross-platform, the delivery
mechanism is. Sophos has seen Mac malware planted on a
large number of websites, with many variants of the Trojan
being distributed.26
Although Macintoshes have a long way to go before
they overtake PCs in popularity, particularly in the office
environment, analysts are reporting that an increasing
number of consumers are open to considering purchasing
a Mac computer rather than a PC in future. This may drive
the emergence of more financially motivated malware for
this platform.27
It is concerning that the Mac has become the focus of at
least one malware gang. Ultimately, future Mac malware
attacks will be driven by how effective the attackers are at
infecting Apple Mac users. The criminal hacking gangs are
in business to make money, so if they do not see a return on
their investment, they will not invest more effort.
For this reason, it is essential that Apple Mac users ensure
they are properly defended - and stay clued-up about the
various attack mechanisms that cybercriminals can use to
break into their computers.
OSX/RSPlug is connected to a widespread family of
Windows malware called Zlob25, which promises to display
pornographic material when the user loads a new codec (a
program that allows internet users to watch video content).
Sophos security threat report
Mobile phones and Wi-Fi devices
Mobile security threats
Ultra-mobile PCs, iPhones and Wi-Fi devices
There are approximately 200 malware threats for mobile
phones, compared to over 300,000 for Windows.
The risk of being infected on a mobile phone is tiny
in comparison.
The wider availability of wireless internet services has
increased the attractiveness of Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
Nevertheless, the mobile malware threat has been growing
steadily over the last few years and more businesses are
now looking to secure confidential data against potential
attacks at all endpoints. In a Sophos web poll, in November
2006, 81 percent of business IT administrators expressed
concern that malware and spyware targeting mobile devices
will become a significant threat in the future. However,
64 percent also said they currently have no solution in place
to secure company smartphones and PDAs.28
Although simple Trojans have been seen, the Apple iPhone
has not yet been the target of commercially motivated
hackers. The fact that most versions of the phone/music
player/browser are locked to particular service providers and
lengthy contracts has, however, limited its appeal to the
mass-market and may mean iPhone adopters have some
breathing space before attacks begin in earnest.
Flaws have been found in Apple’s mobile email application
and Safari browser and it is more likely that attacks would
be focused on these areas than the underlying operating
system. But cybercriminals seeking a larger return are
likely to stick mostly to Windows desktops for the
foreseeable future.
The iPod Touch is more affordable than the iPhone, and
shares its Safari web browser. As both the iPhone and iPod
Touch are designed to connect to the internet, and can
retrieve email and visit websites, it is theoretically possible
that hackers will target them more in the future. At the
moment, Safari appears to be the most likely place where
vulnerabilities would be exploited.
Meanwhile, 2008 looks set to be the year of increased
take-up of ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs). UMPCs, like the Asus
EEE subnotebook, have shaken up the laptop market with
their low price, usability and portability.
Ultimately the main vulnerability on any system is the
user and Sophos expects to see messages sent to mobile
users luring them to fake webpages on which they will be
instructed to enter confidential data, in just the same way
that desktop email users are trapped.
IT managers should not only be looking to protect their
PDAs and mobile phones from malware, but also be
investigating data encryption and access control. It is also
wise to invest in user education on how to safely browse
online. Those with mobile devices need to understand that
many of the web threats affect them as well, regardless of
the device or operating system they are using.
Sophos security threat report
Interestingly, this new range of UMPCs does not necessarily
come with a version of Windows pre-installed (in the case
of the Asus EEE, it comes with the Xandros flavor of UNIX).
For this reason, UMPCs are automatically immune to the
vast majority of spyware, adware and malware attacks – but
if such devices continue to increase in popularity the
situation might change.
Of course, as has been pointed out earlier, a lot of hacking
attacks actually have very little to do with technology, but
with vulnerabilities in the human operating the computer.
So it is perfectly possible right now for users of any of these
mobile devices to receive spammed phishing messages,
follow the link and enter their confidential data.
Social networking
A procrastinator’s paradise or an identity thief’s dream?
Social networking websites like Facebook, Bebo, Orkut,
and MySpace have become phenomenally popular – not
just with teenagers trying to keep in touch and internetsavvy pop groups, but also with hackers interested in
stealing information from individuals and companies.
So organizations are facing the dual concerns of social
networking websites causing productivity issues by
distracting employees from their work, and the risk of
malware being introduced to the workplace.
Productivity threat
Users openly brag about logging in to their Facebook
accounts rather than work. The “I have dossed around on
Facebook all day and consequently have done no work”
group for instance has more than 220 members. Sophos
research into how addictive social networking can become,
showed that one in seven users were logged into their
Facebook profile virtually all the time during office hours.29
Giving up so much information about their interests and
personal life, along with detailed information about their
companies online, is playing into the cybercriminals’ hands.
32 percent of people use the same password for every
website they access – if criminals guess it in one place,
they may well be guessing it for the company network
too. In order to protect their data and their reputations,
organizations need to act quickly to set up guidelines for
employees who are posting on these sites.
Yes, all the time
I have a few
different passwords
No, never
Do you use the same password for every
website you access?
Source: Sophos online survey, November 2007 - December 2007
Once or twice
a day
Up to ten times
a day
Virtually all the
I only access
Facebook from
home, never at
The social networking sites themselves also need to address
the problem. While Facebook has been commended for
the strict security options available31, it needs to do more
to educate its users on securing profiles, and consider
changing its own default settings.
How often employees access Facebook from work
Source: Sophos online survey, September–October 2007
Identity theft threat
Sophos also conducted research into the dangers of
irresponsible behavior on Facebook. Using a fake profile30
Sophos was able to discover information about other
Facebook users, such as their date of birth, current email
address or phone number. Sophos also gained access to
further personal facts including employer details, complete
resumés and one user even divulged his mother’s maiden
name – information often requested by websites in order to
retrieve account details.
Sophos security threat report
Malware threat
Social networking websites have also been abused by
criminals trying to spread code to unsuspecting users. For
instance, in March 2007, the SpaceStalk spyware Trojan
horse was discovered embedded in a QuickTime movie on
the MySpace page of MAMASAID, a French rock band. The
Javascript code downloaded further malicious code from the
net designed to steal information32.
In September, in a separate incident, MySpace and Bebo
were amongst the websites which fell foul of poisoned
banner advertisements designed to install Trojan horses
onto the computers of Windows users. The infected adverts
were served by Right Media, an advertisement network
owned by Yahoo. Hackers circumvented security checks by
programming the offending files not to infect PCs on Right
Media’s network.
Google’s social networking website, Orkut, which is
particularly popular in Brazil, was struck by the
JS/Adrecl-A worm in December 2007, and infected over
670,000 users33.
Meanwhile the Secret Crush application, which had over
50,000 daily users on Facebook, invited people to find
out who amongst their friends has a secret crush on them.
Users tempted to discover more have to invite at least five
other Facebook users to install the application before their
mystery admirer is revealed.
However, no secret crush is ever revealed. Instead users are
directed to an external website which invites Facebook users
to download adware that will display pop-up advertising.34
Whoever wrote the Secret Crush application earned money
by encouraging people to download and install the
advertising program.
Sophos security threat report
Securing the business network
Identity theft – a corporate problem
Countless news stories, from TJ Maxx losing details of
around 90 million customers over a two-year period35,
and the November 2007 debacle of the UK’s HMRC (Her
Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) losing sensitive data about
25 million families in Britain36, indicate that even large
organizations are at risk.
In August 2007 it was revealed that employment search
website had lost personal information about
more than 1 million people37. Attackers used the usernames
and passwords of professional recruiters to access’s resumé database, and then spammed out
phishing emails and malware to innocent job searchers.
to its network, an organization can significantly reduce
the chances of a security breach happening. In addition,
regulations that deal with the human aspect of mishandling
data – accidental or otherwise – must be put in place to
combat lax security.
NAC – helping enforce compliance
Leading security analysts such as Gartner and IDC agree
that companies need to start their investigations now into
network access control solutions and how they can integrate
into the security framework. Integration of security pointsolutions at the heart of the organization - the desktop and
file server - is the recommended route forward, simplifying
the management for administrators while using less
resource on the network.
Payment card industry compliance
In response to serious data breaches, the payment
card industry security standards council (PCI DSS) was
formed and has since put in place 12 requirements with
which organizations that deal with credit and debit card
transactions must be compliant.
It has been reported that only one third of retailers are
PCI compliant38.
The cost of a data breach, both in resource and software
terms, can be huge, and many companies without a
detailed security strategy and the right information may be
paying a premium to secure their networks. By properly
securing and controlling their computers and the access
What does NAC do?
NAC (network access control) helps reduce the risk of
compromising your network security.
Works alongside anti-malware and firewall products
and meet the following criteria:
Stops unauthorized, guest or non-compliant systems
accessing your network
Ensures all computers conform to a defined security
Is simple to deploy and easy to use
Allows easy identification and isolation of
unmanaged computers.
Sophos security threat report
State-sponsored cybercrime
During 2007 it became more common for countries to
openly accuse each other of engaging in spying via the
internet – even though it can be extraordinarily difficult to
prove an attack is being sponsored by a government.
In April, a large-scale distributed denial-of-service attack
against websites belonging to the Estonian prime minister,
banks and schools, were claimed to be masterminded by
the Kremlin39 after Estonia decided to remove a statue of
a Soviet-era soldier that comprised part of a World War II
memorial. Estonian Minister of Defence, Jaak Aaviksoo,
accused the Russian government of launching the attack and
called on NATO to amend its protocols to recognize the attack
as a form of military action. However, no proof was presented
that the attacks could be traced back to the Kremlin.
Three months earlier, newspapers reported that the Chinese
military were being blamed for a cyberattack which targeted
a Pentagon computer system serving the office of US defense
secretary, Robert Gates. Unnamed sources claimed that the
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were blamed in an internal
investigation for perpetrating the attempted hack. The British
and German governments were also said to have been
subject to similar probes by hackers working for the PLA.
When Sophos asked in a poll41 in September 2007 who
people believed were likely to have been responsible for the
attack the results were:
Believed responsible
% of respondents
Impossible to say
Someone pretending to be Chinese 19%
The Chinese foreign ministry vigorously denied the claims,
and said it works hard to fight cybercrime.
In another example in December 2007, it was revealed that
MI5, the British secret service, had written a secret letter
to 300 chief executives warning them that they were under
attack from “Chinese state organizations”40. According to
reports, the Chinese government was behind electronic
espionage against British firms designed to give China a
commercial advantage.
Sophos security threat report
2008 is likely to bring more claims of countries attacking
and spying on each other via the internet, but so far there
has been no convincing evidence released to the public
proving that attacks are backed by foreign governments.
It must be remembered that internet hackers can hide
their tracks, hopping from computer to computer, and
leapfrogging around the world, making it very hard
sometimes to determine precisely who is behind an attack.
There is no doubt, however, of the importance of securing
critical computers inside government from hackers whether
motivated by politics, espionage or money.
Arrests and the law
The repercussions for cybercriminals are finally coming in line with the severity of their crimes. With international computer
crime authorities joining efforts in a bid to bring down hackers, malware authors and spammers, the past 12 months have
seen more arrests and harsher sentencing for criminals involved in high-profile crimes.
Below are some of the cases that made the news in just in the second half of 2007.
August 2007: 27-year-old Christopher Smith was
sentenced to 30 years in prison in the US for selling millions
of dollars worth of medications online to customers without
prescriptions or a license42.
August 2007: Jacob Vincent Green-Bressler was sentenced
to seven years in prison for buying stolen data from
hackers43. Armed with account numbers, identification
numbers (PINs), passwords and social security numbers,
21-year-old Green-Bressler was able to create counterfeit
credit cards and withdraw money from cash machines.
September 2007: A Chinese court found four men guilty
of writing and selling the Fujacks worm44, which converted
icons of infected files into joss-stick-burning pandas. The
malware was designed to steal usernames and passwords
from online gamers, details which would fetch a high price
on the black market. The men were sentenced to between
two and half and four years in jail, but not before they wrote
and gave the authorities a fix for the infection.*
November 2007: A 17-year-old was arrested in The
Netherlands following claims that almost $6,000 worth of
virtual furniture was stolen from users of a popular teenage
gaming website46. Virtual furniture at Habbo Hotel is
purchased with credits that cost real currency. The teenager
created fake Habbo Hotel websites, captured the players’
login details and used the information to break into the real
website and steal virtual furniture.
With hacking, phishing and web threats on the increase,
Sophos looks expectantly to 2008 for further improvements
in solving computer crime cases, but warns that authorities
should not become complacent if they are to keep
users safe.
October 2007: James R Schaffer and Jeffrey A Kilbride
were each sentenced to five years in jail and fined
$100,000 for their part in sending innocent internet users
sexually explicit images, a crime that netted them over
$2 million45.
Sophos security threat report
*Shockingly, one was offered a job by one of the victim companies
The future
Predicting the future in such a rapidly evolving scene is near
impossible. One only needs to look at the virus scene five years
ago to see how quickly the threat has become more serious in
a short period of time. Indeed, a Sophos poll revealed that
70 percent of those surveyed believed that 2008 would
actually be just as bad or worse for IT security than 2007.
It does seem inevitable that the variety and number of
attacks will continue to escalate, driven by organized
crime’s desire to break into computers to steal information,
identities and resources. Sophos expects computer users
will continue to face challenges in securing and controlling
their computers as criminals attempt to capitalize on
new technology to make money and cause disruption. In
addition, threats like identity theft and fraud will still be
occurring far into the future because of human mistakes.
However, if managed properly, the problem should not be
insurmountable as sound security practices, up-to-date
protection and an active commitment to keep informed can
all help defend business networks in the year ahead.
The good news is that security software is getting better all the
time. Proactive detection of new, unknown malware threats is
at an all-time high, and computer users who are sensible and
properly defended can dramatically reduce the risks.
Sophos security threat report
About Sophos
Sophos enables enterprises worldwide to secure and control their IT infrastructure. Our network access control, endpoint, web and email
solutions simplify security to provide integrated defenses against malware, spyware, intrusions, unwanted applications, spam, policy
abuse, data leakage and compliance drift. With over 20 years of experience, we protect over 100 million users in nearly 150 countries
with our reliably engineered security solutions and services. Recognized for our high level of customer satisfaction, we have an enviable
history of industry awards, reviews and certifications. Sophos is headquartered in Boston, MA and Oxford, UK.
To find out about Sophos products and how to evaluate them, please visit
Boston, USA • Mainz, Germany • Milan, Italy • Oxford, UK • Paris, France
Singapore • Sydney, Australia • Vancouver, Canada • Yokohama, Japan
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