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Growing Phishing Threats And Critical Vulnerabilities

September 1st, 2006

MessageLabs has announced the results of its MessageLabs Intelligence Report for August 2006. In this month’s findings, MessageLabs observed the continuing trend for online criminals to develop sophisticated new phishing attacks and trojans that exploit widespread vulnerabilities, such as the publicised MS06-040 and prey on the popularity of instant messaging software, social networks and ecommerce sites.

Whilst spam activity during August fractionally increased by 1.8 percent to 64.5 percent of all emails sent and virus traffic continues to plateau at approximately 1 percent, the most significant result highlights how phishing attacks, as a proportion of all virus and trojan activity, accounts for almost one-third of all threats compared to one-fifth of all threats just one month ago.

MessageLabs has observed a steady rise in the number of phishing attacks since 2005, now accounting for 30.7 percent of all malicious emails, and evidence indicates phishing appears to be replacing large virus outbreaks as online criminals’ attack method of choice. In addition, phishers appear to be expanding beyond their traditional base in fraudulent online banking sites and significantly increasing their attacks on customers of ecommerce sites such as eBay and PayPal, as well as members of social networking site MySpace.

Despite the growing influx of phishing attacks, trojans also saw activity due to the widespread MS06-040 vulnerability. Though a “critical” patch update was quickly offered by Microsoft for the operating systems at risk, a well known Russian spammer was able to exploit unpatched servers using the infamous Pro Mailer DMS spam software and its advanced “spam-cannon” technique. This technique, which employs a powerful mail-merge of addresses with preset spam templates, enables the spammer to maximise throughput and distribute millions of spam messages per hour through a single compromised computer.

Spam: The global ratio of spam this month is 64.5 percent, which is an increase of 1.8 percent from July. More attacks like the “spam-cannon” used by the Russian spammer this month are being seen as online criminals reap success from these sophisticated new methods.

Viruses: The number of viruses found in emails has decreased this month. On average only one in 98.4 emails contains a virus as compared with last month’s one in 96.6 emails. Virus traffic this month only accounted for one percent of emails, which proves that online criminals are moving away from virus outbreaks and focusing their efforts on more targeted phishing attacks for which they see greater results.

Phishing: There was a significant increase in the average number of phishing attacks around the globe this month. The number increased from one in 460 last month to one in 321 in the month of August. As the number of virus outbreaks drops we continue to see the number of phishing attacks increase, as the focus shifts to more targeted attacks.

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