Majority of Trojan attacks now designed for financial gain, researchers say

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The first Trojan horse was designed to win the war and get the girl. But according to new research from PandaLabs, Trojan software makers now have gone commercial.

Sixty-six percent of the new Trojans that emerged in the first quarter of 2007 were designed for financial gain, according to the security company's quarterly research report, which was published Wednesday.

"Trojans help their authors make a financial profit in many different ways, from stealing bank passwords to modifying the server's DNS to redirect users to spoofed Websites," says Luis Corrons, technical director at PandaLabs, the research arm of Panda Software. "In fact, Trojans are currently the most widely used malware, due to their flexibility to carry out these types of crimes."

Other security researchers have also found a strong uptick in financially oriented Trojan traffic. Kaspersky Lab in February said it has spotted a surge in bank Trojans. (See Attackers Take Trojans to the Bank.) RSA in March launched a service specifically targeted toward controlling Trojans. (See RSA Launches Anti-Trojan Service.)

The new Trojans detected by PandaLabs in the first quarter belonged to almost 700 different families and represented 74 percent of the new malware detected during the period, the report says. The most frequently detected Trojan variety was the downloader family, which made up 42 percent of the total.

Over the first quarter of 2007, Trojans were the most active category of malware, according to PandaLabs.

"There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, Trojans are the best tool for stealing confidential data -- bank details, email accounts for spamming, and so forth -- which can then be turned easily into profit," Corrons observes. "They also are a more discreet way of stealing this data than other techniques, such as phishing."

Most new malware is designed to make money, PandaLabs says in its report. "Cyber-criminals want, above all, to earn financial profit from their activities," the report says. "Hackers have turned professional, offering services such as tailor-made malware, etc., to attack companies."

Malware attacks today often involve multiple individuals working together, the report says. "Middlemen are used, just they are in other illegitimate businesses. First, specific malware is created to steal information. Then, the malware is distributed, and information from infected users is compiled.

"Hackers don't use the information directly, they resell it to third parties," the report continues. "Third parties then use mules, attracting them with tricks, such as 'earn easy money from home in a few hours.' Police are more likely to catch the mule than the other participants in the scam. It is therefore very difficult to associate the creator of the Trojan with the crimes committed."

The PandaLabs report can be downloaded by clicking here.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

About the Author(s)

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading


Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one of the top cyber security journalists in the US in voting among his peers, conducted by the SANS Institute. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Voices in Security by SYS-CON Media.

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