The latest Internet Security Threat Report released by Symantec shows that because home users are less likely to have established security measures in place, they are being increasingly targeted by attackers for identity theft, fraud or other financially motivated crime.
The company says attackers are now using a variety of techniques to escape detection and prolong their presence on systems in order to gain more time to steal information, hijack the computer for marketing purposes, provide remote access or otherwise compromise confidential information for profit.
Symantecís Internet Security Threat Report notes that home users are the most targeted attack sector, accounting for 86 percent of all targeted attacks, followed by financial services businesses. Symantec has identified increased attacks aimed at client-side applications, increased use of evasive tactics to avoid detection, and that large, widespread internet worms have given way to smaller, more targeted attacks focusing on fraud, data theft and criminal activity.
As software vendors and enterprises successfully adapt to the changing threat environment by implementing security best practices and defence-in-depth strategies, attackers have begun to adopt new techniques such as targeting malicious code at client-side applications including web browsers, e-mail clients and other desktop applications. Vulnerabilities affecting web applications accounted for 69 percent of all vulnerabilities documented by Symantec in the first half of 2006. Vulnerabilities in web browsers have also become increasingly prominent, with 47 vulnerabilities documented in Mozilla browsers (compared to 17 in the last reporting period), 38 in Microsoft Internet Explorer (compared to 25) and 12 in Apple Safari (compared to six).
Phishers are also attempting to bypass filtering technologies by creating multiple randomised messages and distributing those messages in a broad uncontrolled fashion. During the first six months of 2006, 157,477 unique phishing messages were detected, marking an increase of 81 percent over the previous period. At the same time, spam made up 54 percent of all monitored e-mail traffic, a slight increase from 50 percent the previous period. Most spammers are opting to exclude malicious code from their spam to decrease the chances of being blocked and instead include links to web sites hosting malicious code.
Financial gain remains the motivation behind many of the threats during the reporting period. For example, bot networks can be used not only to spread malicious code, but also to send spam or phishing messages, download adware and spyware, attack an organisation and harvest confidential information. Symantec identified more than 4.6 million distinct, active bot network computers and observed an average of 57,717 active bot network computers per day during this period. Bot networks are also commonly used in denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, a major threat to organisations as these attacks can result in disrupted communication, loss of revenue, damage to brand and reputation and exposure to criminal extortion schemes. During the first half of 2006, Symantec observed an average of 6,110 DoS attacks per day.
Symantec documented 2,249 new vulnerabilities in the first half of 2006, an increase of 18 percent over the previous period and the highest volume of vulnerabilities recorded for any reporting period.
The window of exposure for enterprise vendors and web browsers was 28 days, down from 50 days in the previous period. Microsoft Internet Explorer had an average window of exposure of nine days (down from 25), Apple Safari at five days (up from zero), Opera at two days (down from 18) and Mozilla at one day (up from negative two). For the first time, Symantec tracked the average time it takes operating system vendors to release a patch for a vulnerability. Sun had the longest patch release time with 89 days followed by HP with 53 days. Apple took an average of 37 days while Microsoft and Red Hat had the lowest average patch release times with 13 days.