12:54 PM

Malware Volume Doubled In 2010

A new threat appears more than once each second, as attackers increasingly turn their attention to social networks, reported Sophos.

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New malware appears, on average, once every 0.9 seconds. For 2010, 95,000 unique pieces of malware in total appeared, doubling the volume of malware seen in 2009. Those findings come from the Sophos Security Threat Report 2011, released Wednesday.

Attackers are also increasingly focusing their efforts on social networks. Sophos said that in 2010, 40% of social networking users received malware via social media sites, up from 36% in 2009. In the same timeframe, the number of people who received spam via social networks increased by 57% to 67%, while the number of people who experienced a phishing attack increased from 30% to 43%.

The report also noted that the United States continues to lead the world in spam relaying. Currently, 16% of all spam emails originate in the United States. But other countries have seen their spam production increase, most notably the United Kingdom and France, which each relay 4% of the world's spam volume.

The increased volume from those countries could reflect an increased number of Web-based attacks that are focusing on exploiting PCs in more affluent countries. "We saw a significant drop in spam from South America -- a 7% drop, that is actually quite significant," said Beth Jones, a senior threat researcher at SophosLabs in Boston. "Or perhaps the partnerka -- the Russian mafia -- is expanding its reach, because obviously China has been cracking down there."

Jones said that with today's malware volume, writing one-to-one detection signatures would be impossible for any company to accomplish. "Can you imagine the data bloat?" she said. Accordingly, security vendors are focusing on more proactive detection mechanisms.

In light of today's top threats, one proactive step that organizations can take to improve their security is to address social networking usage through acceptable use policies or instituting some access restrictions, said Jones. "We're seeing so much more malware and phishing attempts with social media, and we're seeing a lot of concern with businesses, but we're not seeing businesses restrict user access, which is surprising," she said, "because if I was a corporation, I'd be far more concerned with data loss than with a malware incident."

Her reasoning: Given the prevalence of firewalls and antivirus software, most malware today stands a good chance of being spotted. But not a data leakage -- inadvertent or otherwise. "Data loss is a much bigger issue, because if customer information gets leaked, look what happened to Gawker. What happens to your business?"

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