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Malware Toolkits Generate Majority Of Online Attacks

Crimeware is growing more automated and effective, lowering the bar for criminals looking to cash in, says Symantec report.

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At least 61% of all online attacks today are launched via automated attack toolkits, says a new report from Symantec, which studied state of the art attack kits -- the most prevalent being MPack, Neosploit, Zeus, Nukesploit P4ck, and Phoenix -- and malicious Web sites.

"In the past, hackers had to create their own threats from scratch. This complex process limited the number of attackers to a small pool of highly skilled cybercriminals," said Stephen Trilling, senior VP for Symantec Security Technology and Response, in a statement.

No longer. Today's attack kits (aka crimeware) can automatically launch massive attacks that exploit known vulnerabilities to install tools on people's PCs. These tools then provide attackers with opportunities to steal sensitive information, launch further attacks, turn PCs into spam relays, and more.

The tools' success at freeing people from their financial information has driven demand through the roof, with prices to match. Five years ago, for example, a popular but hard-to-find attack toolkit, WebAttacker, sold for just $15 on the black market, although most tools were free. Today, the easy-to-find Zeus toolkit sells for up to $8,000, depending on options.

"It's like legitimate software in a lot of ways. Because they're making a profit, they're putting more work into them, so that my kit sells over your kit. And because the guys who buy the kits can turn around and generate a profit, people are willing to pay money for them," said Marc Fossi, executive editor of the new Symantec report.

Now, launching an attack is as simple as clicking a few icons and specifying some variables. The command interface for Zeus, for example, lists numerous commands that can be added with just a click: adding a back door to a server with a fixed IP address, executing a local file based on a series of filters, uploading information from protected storage, and downloading and executing files.

In fact, the toolkits have become so good at exploiting known vulnerabilities -- the software gets updated frequently to take advantage of the latest bugs -- that they may be responsible for more than 61% of online attacks. "The other 39%, there's probably a good chunk of that related to toolkits as well, but we couldn't say with certainty," said Fossi. "But I asked a guy here at Symantec -- who writes our intrusion detection signatures -- for his feedback, and he thinks the number is closer to 90%."

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