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IBM Report: Stealthy Attacks, Vulnerability Disclosures Rise

X-Force report says 35 percent of vulnerabilities affecting virtualization servers also affect the hypervisor

Covert and obfuscated attacks on organizations have increased by more than 50 percent in the past year worldwide, according to newly released report by IBM's X-Force research team.

The new IBM X-Force 2010 Mid-Year Trend and Risk Report also found that the total number of new vulnerabilities disclosed had increased 36 percent over the same period last year, to 4,396 for the first half of '10. And 55 percent of these bugs had not been fixed by the end of the first half.

"We knew this was coming for a few months before we put the data together, but it was still a surprise to us in some respects. Last year, we saw an 11 percent decrease in vulnerability disclosure," says Tom Cross, manager of XForce Research. "If you had asked me a year ago, I would not have expected this volume of disclosure."

The leap in the number of exposed flaws is both good news and bad news. "It means we're doing a lot more work to catalog them ... in some respects, applications are more secure because we are getting these vulns out in the open and getting patches out there. It's a process," Cross says.

Meanwhile, organizations around the globe are facing more hidden attacks -- these attacks rose 52 percent in the first half of 2010 versus the same period in '09 -- where the attackers hide their malicious code behind JavaScript, as well as PDF files to avoid detection, according to IBM. This category includes the infamous advanced persistent threats or APTs, which try to remain in a network undetected as long as possible to steal information.

"We're seeing people struggling with the constantly increasing sophistication of attacks," IBM's Cross says. "A lot of these attacks are obfuscated."

PDFs can also be obfuscated as well, he says. And there was a 37 percent increase in PDF-borne exploits in April of this year than the average for the first half of 2010, according to the report, mostly due to a major spam run that used PDFs to push Zeus and Pushdo bots.

The report also confirmed worries about mixing apps and operations within a virtualized server that require different levels of security: 35 percent of the vulnerabilities that affect virtualization servers also affect the hypervisor. So if an attacker wrests control of one virtual machine on a server, he or she may be able to hack into other more secure virtual systems on the same server, according to the report.

"You shouldn't be tying in different domains with different security requirements on the same physical hardware," Cross says. "A hypervisor is a piece of software, and it can have vulnerabilities like other pieces of software."

Not surprisingly, Web application vulnerabilities led the vulnerability disclosure list, making up 55 percent of all disclosures, with the number at anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 finds per year. That number doesn't include custom Web apps, according to the report, so it's likely an even larger number. Cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection were at the top of the list.

A copy of the full report from IBM X-Force is available for download here.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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