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8/25/2010
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Vulnerability Disclosures Increase By 36% In 2010

IBM report finds "escape to hypervisor" attacks a growing virtualization concern.




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Vulnerability disclosures have reached record levels, with 4,396 new vulnerabilities documented in the first half of 2010 -- a 36% increase over the same period last year. That's according to a new IBM X-Force report, released Wednesday.

Web applications accounted for the majority (55%) of those vulnerability disclosures, but IBM's report cautioned that many more vulnerabilities may exist in custom web applications.

Obfuscated attacks, which allow attackers to sneak malicious code past traditional security tools, increased 52% from the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2010. JavaScript obfuscation is one particularly popular attack, said IBM, because it allows attackers "to hide their exploits within document files and web pages."

But three of the five most popular online attacks seen by IBM in the first half of 2010 involved PDF exploits. Such attacks peaked in April during a widespread spam campaign, largely driven by Zeus and Pushdo botnets distributing massive quantities of malicious PDF files via e-mail.

The good security news for the year to date is that phishing attacks have significantly declined, although the attack's primary impetus -- stealing financial data -- remains the same. Reviewing phishing e-mails, IBM found that the principal target is financial institutions (for 49% of attacks), followed by credit cards (28%), government agencies (11%), online payments (6%), and auctions (5%).

Today, virtualization vulnerabilities account for only a small subset of all code vulnerabilities. But IBM warned there's still cause for concern with virtualization security, since "35% of vulnerabilities impacting server class virtualization systems affect the hypervisor." The hypervisor is responsible for providing the platform on which guest operating systems run.

By hacking the hypervisor or gaining control of one of the virtual systems and using an "escape to hypervisor" vulnerability, an attacker might gain access to any system running on the same PC or server. The upshot is that businesses should think "about the wisdom of sharing workloads with different security requirements on the same physical hardware," according to IBM's report.

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