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Attacks/Breaches

Android Malware Surges, Botnet Business Booms

McAfee reports thousands of new malware apps targeting Android appeared early this year, along with a steady stream of botnet updates.

The volume of malware surged in the first three months of 2012. In particular, there's been a flood of new types of rootkits, password-stealing Trojan applications, malware targeting Android users, and botnet infections.

This finding comes by way of a new report from security vendor McAfee.

"Malicious code is on the rise again, plain and simple," said David Marcus, director of security research for McAfee Labs, in a related blog post. "We are seeing more malware than in the recent past, and you can count on that figure to rise in the coming year. In particular, mobile platforms present today's cybercriminal with an almost irresistible target, specifically Android-based for now, but that can certainly evolve."

[ Cyber-scams and malware are expected to escalate as we approach the 2012 Olympics. Read more at London 2012 Olympics Scammers Seek Malicious Gold . ]

The number of new malicious applications targeting mobile devices leapt from about 500 in the fourth quarter of 2011 to over 6,000 in the first quarter of 2012. The jump was targeted almost solely at the Android platform, according to the McAfee report. It also noted that the vast majority of Android malware targets mobile users based in Russia and China, and comes not via the official Google Play application store but via third-party sources.

From a corporate information security standpoint, the most prevalent types of network-based attacks seen between January and the end of March 2012 were remote procedure calls, SQL injection attacks, and browser cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.

Geographically, the United States took top marks when it came to SQL injection attacks, both as the region from which most of these attacks were launched and as the biggest target. The United States also saw the largest number of machines compromised by botnets, which, as McAfee reported, are "often used as a proxy for spam, botnets, denial of service, or other types of malicious activities."

On the good news front, spam volumes have recently been decreasing, with McAfee recording about 1 trillion spam messages circulating worldwide per month. Decreases were most significant in Brazil, Indonesia, and Russia, while increases in spam were found in China, Germany, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, according to the report. The United Kingdom in particular is no surprise, given the increase in spam, phishing, and malware attacks that are related to the July 2012 Summer Olympics that will be happening in London.

If spam volumes are down, however, botnet activity is up. All told, McAfee saw about 5 million new botnet infections--2 million alone due to the Cutwail (a.k.a. Pushdo) botnet--during the first three months of 2012. The biggest increase in the overall number of botnet infections, meanwhile, was in Columbia, Japan, Poland, Spain, and the United States.

Without a doubt, the botnet business is booming--and for a price, anyone can buy in. For example, McAfee researchers found that a botnet known as Citadel, available via a malware-as-a-service model, costs $2,400, plus $125 for renting the required "bot builder and admin panel." Meanwhile, for an additional $395, users can add an upgrade that brings "automatic updates for antivirus evasion," according to the McAfee report, although each update then costs $15.

First detected in December 2011 and based on the published Zeus financial malware source code, Citadel has quickly become one of the most rapidly adopted profit-driven attack toolkits, meaning it's designed to separate consumers from their bank account and credit card details.

Meanwhile, the price of the Darkness botnet marketed by "SVAS/Noncenz," which is designed for launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against websites, starts at $450--with no free updates or add-on modules--but can rise to $1,000 for lifetime free upgrades and an attack module that will grab passwords from infected PCs.

Finally, the latest version of the Carberp financial botnet, which is designed to steal bank account data or even Facebook e-cash vouchers, costs $2,500. While Russian authorities announced on March 20, 2012, that they'd arrested the gang behind Carberp, the new version debuted the next day.

Think your corporate website isn't vulnerable to a SQL injection attack? Start rethinking. SQL injection is among the most prevalent--and most dangerous--techniques for exploiting Web applications and attacking back-end databases that house critical business information at companies of every size. In our Stop SQL Injection report, we explain how SQL injection works and how to secure your Web apps and databases against it. (Free registration required.)

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