Worldwide malicious code activity reached alarming figures last year, said information security vendor Symantec.
In 2008, Symantec created more than 1.6 million new malicious code signatures, which helps the organisation block attacks. This equates to more than 60 per cent of the total malicious code signatures ever created by Symantec, a response to the rapidly increasing volume and proliferation of these threats. The figures were reported in Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report Volume XIV.
The report noted that Web surfing remained the primary source of new infections in 2008, and attackers are relying more and more on customised malicious code toolkits to develop and distribute their threats.
Almost all, or 90 per cent, of threats detected by Symantec attempted to steal confidential information. Threats with a keystroke-logging capability--which can be used to steal information such as online bank account credentials--made up 76 per cent of threats to confidential information, up from 72 per cent in 2007.
The report also noted the presence of a well-organised underground economy specialising in the sale of stolen confidential data, particularly credit card and bank account credentials.
Attacks mainly in EMEA region
Web application platforms were common sources of vulnerabilities highlighted by the report. These pre-built software products are designed to simplify the deployment of new websites and are in widespread use around the Internet. Many of these platforms were not designed with security in mind and consequently harbour numerous flaws leaving them potentially vulnerable to attacks. Of all the vulnerabilities identified in 2008, 63 per cent affected Web applications, up from 59 per cent in 2007.
Of the 12,885 site-specific cross-site scripting vulnerabilities reported in 2008, only three per cent (394) had been fixed at the time the report was written. The report also found that Web-based attacks originated from countries around the globe, with the most originating from the United States (38 per cent), followed by China (13 per cent) and the Ukraine (12 per cent). Six of the top 10 countries where Web-based attacks were prominent were from the regions of Europe, Middle East and Africa.
The report found that phishing continued to grow. In 2008, Symantec detected 55,389 phishing website hosts, an increase of 66 per cent over 2007, when Symantec detected 33,428 phishing hosts. Financial services accounted for 76 per cent of phishing lures in 2008 compared to 52 per cent in 2007.
The volume of spam continued to grow, pointed out the report. Over the past year, Symantec observed a 192 per cent increase in spam detected across the Internet as a whole, from 119.6 billion messages in 2007 to 349.6 billion in 2008. In 2008, bot networks were responsible for the distribution of about 90 per cent of all e-mail spam.