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Cyberwarfare Now 'Business as Usual'

Experts flag international cyber-spying as top threat, say malware economy now mimicking legitimate software markets

After a year's worth of reports from regions such as Estonia, Russia, and China, it may not surprise you that security and terrorism experts consider international cyber-spying as the biggest threat for 2008.

And the bad guys are going mainstream: Competition has gotten so stiff that malware suppliers are now offering customer service perks for bad guys who buy their wares.

These, as well as cyber-spying trends, are among the many findings of McAfee's annual Virtual Criminology Report released today.

"What struck me through most of this report is the threat is more evolutionary than revolutionary -- things we've talked about as potentially developing are now status quo," says David Marcus, senior research and communications manager for McAfee. "That's the disturbing part. Cyberwarfare, or state-sponsored malware, is business as usual."

The report, which is based on input from more than a dozen security experts from NATO, the FBI, SOCA, The London School of Economics, and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, says the underworld market offers tools that make it easy for criminals with little technical know-how to commit their crimes. With the black market for these malware tools growing and becoming more competitive, many now advertise their 'products,' and offer support services as a value-add.

"That speaks to their attempts to look like legitimate software houses," Marcus says. "A lot of Trojan Websites don't just sell you malware, but also support for it... It's not just the initial sale of the software. If it's a good service, you'll buy theirs. We have been seeing that become more prevalent in the last eight months."

And the concern among governments is that this malware, as well as the burgeoning market for zero-day exploits, sold in the black market can also be used for targeting government, banks or other sensitive infrastructures, such as the power grid, the report points out.

Around 120 countries are now using the Net for their Web espionage operations, according to the McAfee report. "There are signs that intelligence agencies around the world are constantly probing other governments’ networks looking for strengths and weaknesses and developing new ways to gather intelligence," says Peter Sommer, an expert in information systems and innovation at the London School of Economics, in the report.

China is one of the main sources of cyber attacks, and Chinese officials have publicly said they are "pursuing activities in cyber-espionage," according to the report.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE)
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