Report: Viruses in Decline as Exploits Prosper
A new report from McAfee says mass-mailing viruses are in decline as malicious crackers target unpatched vulnerabilities.
McAfee's anti-virus emergency response team reports that mobile viruses, phishing, and exploited vulnerabilities are easing out mass-mailed viruses as the top menace to enterprise and consumer computer users.
"Although we saw a steady decline in the rate of viruses produced from 2000 to 2004, down to a 5 percent year over year growth, we've seen a 20 percent increase of malware-related threats between 2004 and 2005 and anticipate that these numbers will stay at the higher rate of growth for the immediate future," said Vincent Gullotto, the McAfee vice president overseeing McAfee's Anti-Virus and Vulnerability Emergency Response Team (AVERT). The team released the results of its Q1 2005 report and security forecast today
According to AVERT, the decline in viruses is more than offset by an increase in exploits aimed at vulnerable systems. AVERT estimates that approximately 50 percent or more of the machines on the Internet today are not properly patched to stop exploit-based attacks. According to AVERT's report, vulnerabilities discovered in Q1 2005 totaled more than 1,000: about 6 percent more than in the same quarter last year. The report says AVERT has logged more than 200,000 cases of exploits attacking various vulnerabilities.
In addition to tracking malicious security threats, AVERT has added security threats it says are not malicious but of concern to users, which it refers to as "potentially unwanted programs" or "PUPS." PUPS include adware and other software that's not necessarily destructive but poses a drain on resources or a threat to system stability.
According to AVERT's report, "data gathered from the more than 5 million plus VirusScan On-line users show that 1.5 million of those systems reported the presence of adware. Of those reported, each machine had an average of 3 different adware programs installed."
AVERT also identified phishing and identity theft as growing problems that have become more and more targeted. According to AVERT, phishers "use Spyware programs and password stealers targeting specific banks," helped out by the 2,625 active phishing sites reported by the Anti-Phishing Working Group in February. According to AVERT, the working group's figures represent an increase of 50 percent over the figures provided by a December, 2004 report. AVERT also reported that there's been an average increase of 25 percent in phishing attacks per month.
The report also listed mobile viruses as a "serious threat," claiming that "there has been a very dramatic increase in Symbian malware targeting smart phones and mobile phones from 2004 Q4 to today." According to the report, "there are as many as 50 mobile malware threats in the wild."