New Threats and High Spam Rates Mark the Beginning of 2010

It’s no secret that scammers and spammers are always looking ahead to capitalize on topical news and seasonal activities to target unsuspecting web users. Whether it’s the New Year’s spam we’ve just intercepted that offered pharmaceuticals, watches and weight loss products or the predictable and expected St. Valentine’s Day-related enticements, a fraudster’s calendar is always full.

Seth Hardy

Seth Hardy, Senior Malware Analyst at Symantec Hosted Services

In January, 89.7 percent of all e-mail in Canada was spam and 1 in 383.1 e-mails contained a virus. With threat activity at such high levels, organizations of all sizes need to be vigilant and protect their data from vulnerabilities. Securing documents can pose challenges with new and unexpected threats appearing daily, such as the zero-day vulnerability at the end of 2009. A zero-day attack exploits a vulnerability in an application that was previously unknown to vendors and for which a fix isn’t yet available.

This vulnerability was found in a popular version of a .PDF viewer and was observed targeting high level individuals in the public sector, education, financial services and large international corporations.  The attack also involved a social engineering aspect which varied according to the individual and organization being targeted. With ever sophisticated techniques being deployed to avoid detection and familiar methods constantly tweaked and honed to deliver the best results, we expect more sophisticated targeted malware attacks of this nature in the very near future.

Another challenge facing businesses is the influx of spam from free webmail accounts. Worldwide, we saw the equivalent of 900 million spam emails come from three well-known free webmail service providers.  Despite the best efforts of the providers to prevent this abuse of their services, there is still a viable market in the underground economy for buying and selling legitimate, useable accounts.

The fight against viruses, spam and other unwelcome content for business globally is ongoing. Here are the global threat statistics for January 2010:

  • Spam – 83.9% in January
  • Viruses – One in 326.9 emails in January contained malware
  • Phishing – One in 562.3 emails comprised a phishing attack
  • Malicious websites – 3,086 websites blocked per day
  • 41.4% of all malicious domains blocked were new in January
  • 12.1% of all web-based malware blocked was new in January

So, with the threat landscape as busy as it is, what does this mean for organizations of all sizes looking to protect their data? It means that companies need to be as diligent about protecting themselves as fraudsters looking to capitalize on security vulnerabilities are.  Some important messaging security tips that apply to organizations of all sizes, especially within the SMB market, include:

  • Virus and spyware protection: With thousands of new virus variants materializing each month, it is critical that your protection is able to keep up with new and previously unknown threats
  • Spam filtering: Blocking spam saves employees time and reduces the risk of fraud from phishing emails
  • Firewall: Stop viruses that spread over the Internet and keep hackers away from your network and servers
  • Access control: Ensure employees only have access to the information they need to do their jobs
  • Policy enforcement: Develop effective policies about employee use of the Internet that are backed up with training on them and practical matters such as the use of strong passwords
  • Encryption: Consider encrypting email to protect the confidentiality of messages, as well as data on laptops and portable devices to keep thieves from accessing sensitive information if they are stolen
  • Physical security: A stolen server is as much of a risk as a virus-infested one, so locks, alarms, secure server rooms and visitor access control are essential to your IT security plan
  • Backup: Critical data needs to be backed up with copies stored  offsite and the restore process should be tested regularly
  • Software updates: Make sure all your computers are kept current with manufacturers’ updates that fix known flaws and vulnerabilities

Some of the techniques which are expected to play a dominant role this year include: the ongoing strength of botnets, further growth in highly targeted email attacks, exploitation of social networks, and the use of social engineering to lure in victims and manipulate users. It will be an exciting year ahead as we continue to find ways to thwart the bad guys and stay one step ahead of the ongoing changes within our threat landscape.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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