As Malware Surges, U.S. Remains Biggest Source of Attacks

The country leads others in malicious IP, URLs and phishing sites.

4 Min Read

Contrary to popular perception, a majority of the cyber attacks on U.S. companies continue to originate from inside the country rather than outside it.

 For all the attention placed on state-sponsored actors and cybercrime gangs in Russia, China and East Europe, nearly a third of the IP addresses associated with malicious activity and 48 percent of malicious URLs are U.S.-based a report from security vendor Webroot shows. Over 75 percent of all phishing sites are hosted on servers inside the country, the report noted.

The Webroot report is based on an analysis of information gathered by the company’s BrightCloud threat intelligence service. It showed that malware and the infrastructure for hosting and distributing it, is growing dramatically fast.

On average, there are a staggering 12 million malicious IP addresses operating on the Internet on any give day with 85,000 new addresses being launched daily. While the IP addresses come from all over the world, over 30 percent of them are from the U.S. followed by China with 23 percent and Russia with 10 percent.

 When Webroot looked at where malicious URLs are located, Russia and China were barely on the list while the U.S. topped with France in a distance second place.

 “The United States is the number one source of attacks, number one in terms of attack victims and number one in terms of attackers,” said Mike Malloy, executive vice president of products and strategy at Webroot.

 One reason why so many malicious URLs are located in the U.S. could simply be that malicious attackers know that URLs in high-risk countries are automatically blocked by geo-filtering services, he said.

 “An example of such a service is an enterprise network that is configured to reject all connection attempts involving URLs from a high-risk country,” Webroot said in its report.  “This underscores the importance of having URL reputation data independent of classification, as filtering purely by IPs may not be enough to keep networks and users secure,” the company noted.

 The data on attack origins is not the only surprise in the Webroot report. What it also showed is that technology companies are targeted far more often in phishing attacks than financial services companies.  On average there were nearly 9,000 phishing attempts detected per technology firm in 2014 compared to just 900 attempts for financial services companies.

The top five companies impersonated by phishing sites in 2014 were Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple and Dropbox. The reason why phishers have gravitated towards such sites is pretty simple, Malloy says.

“The credentials to these sites are often the master password to a bunch of other applications,” Malloy said. “There are a lot of applications that ask whether you want to log in with your Facebook ID or you Google ID,” he said. By gaining access to the usernames and passwords to these sites, phishers often can unlock numerous other accounts as well, he said.

Somewhat less surprisingly, Webroot research also showed that Internet users are under growing siege from a variety of malware threats. In Dec 2014, the company noted an over 50 percent increase in phishing activity most likely as a result of the holiday season. The company determined that the average Internet user has a 30 percent chance that he or she will fall victim to a phishing attack involving a zero-day threat for which no remediation is available.

Meanwhile, the number of trustworthy mobile applications fell from 52 percent of all applications in 2013 to 28 percent in 2014. About 50 percent were moderately trustworthy or suspicious while the remaineder were outright malicious or unwanted. The data shows that threats are extremely dynamic in nature and that IP address blacklists need to be updated constantly to keep up with new attacks and attackers, Webroot said.

About 3.4 percent of the files that Webroot inspected on behalf of its customers in 2014 were malicious while another 12 percent were what the companies classifies as potentially unwanted applications such as adware and spyware. If the trend continues, the last two years alone will account for nearly half of all malware ever discovered since security researchers started tacking the back in the late 1980s, Malloy said.

About the Author(s)

Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year career at Computerworld, Jai also covered a variety of other technology topics, including big data, Hadoop, Internet of Things, e-voting, and data analytics. Prior to Computerworld, Jai covered technology issues for The Economic Times in Bangalore, India. Jai has a Master's degree in Statistics and lives in Naperville, Ill.

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