Internet-based cyberattacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and specialized as profit-driven criminals continue to hone their approach to stealing data from businesses, employees and consumers, according to a Cisco study released this week.
The 2008 edition of Cisco's Annual Security Report found that the overall number of disclosed vulnerabilities grew by 11.5% over 2007. Vulnerabilities in virtualization technology nearly tripled from 35 to103 year over year, and attacks are becoming increasingly blended, cross-vector and targeted.
Cisco says its researchers saw a 90% growth in threats originating from legitimate domains, nearly double what was seen in 2007. And the volume of malware successfully propagated via e-mail attachments is declining -- over the past two years, the number of attachment-based attacks decreased by 50% from 2005 and 2006.
This is at least the fourth study on security released this year by Cisco. Three other, conducted by an external research firm but commissioned by Cisco, assessed insider threats, data leakage and security policies.
According to Cisco, spam accounts for nearly 200 billion messages each day, approximately 90% of worldwide e-mail. The United States is the biggest source at 17.2%, ahead of Turkey (9.2%), Russia (8%), Canada (4.7%), Brazil (4.1%), India (3.5%), Poland (3.4%), South Korea (3.3%), and Germany and the United Kingdom (2.9% each).
More online attackers are using real e-mail accounts with legitimate Web mail providers to send spam, which makes it harder to detect and block, Cisco says. The company estimates that in 2008 spam resulting from e-mail reputation hijacking of the top three Web mail providers accounted for less than 1% of all spam worldwide but made up 7.6% of the providers' mail traffic.
Botnets have become a nexus of criminal activity on the Internet, according to Cisco. This year, numerous legitimate Web sites were infected with IFrames, malicious code injected by botnets that redirect visitors to malware-downloading sites, the company says.
The use of social engineering to entice victims to open a file or click links continues to grow. Cisco expects that in 2009, social engineering techniques will increase in number, vectors and sophistication.
And targeted phishing -- spear-phishing -- is also expected to become more prevalent as attackers personalize spam and make messages appear more credible, Cisco says.
Some 2009 trends to look for, according to Cisco are:
* Insider threats -- The global economic downturn may prompt more security incidents involving employees.
* Data loss -- Companies to to adopt technology, education and clear, well-enforced data security policies to make compliance easier and reduce incidents of data loss due to carelessness, breaches by hackers, or malicious insiders.
* Mobility, remote working and new tools as risk factors -- The trend toward remote working and the related use of Web-based tools, mobile devices, virtualization, cloud computing and similar technologies will be a challenge for security personnel, as the increasing number of devices and applications in use can make the expanding network more susceptible to new threats.
The free report is available here. Data sources for the report came from multiple Cisco divisions continuously assessing and correlating Internet threats and vulnerabilities.
Cisco posted three video blogs this week to review the report's results: Overview of the Report, Botnets and Reputation Hijacking. The company is also conducting an Internet TV broadcast at 8 a.m. PST to discuss the report's findings.