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Command Injection Attacks, Automated Password Guessing On The Rise

Spam, vulnerabilities, exploit code all on the decline, IBM X-Force report says
Spam and several of the most common vulnerabilities are on the decline, according to a report issued this week, but there has been a marked increase in new types of attacks, such as shell command injection and automated password guessing.

So says the IBM X-Force 2011 Trend and Risk Report, which was published on Monday by IBM's security research unit.

The report revealed a 50 percent decline in spam email compared to 2010; more diligent patching of security vulnerabilities by software vendors, with only 36 percent of software vulnerabilities remaining unpatched in 2011 compared to 43 percent in 2010; and higher quality of software application code, as cross-site scripting vulnerabilities were half as likely to exist in clients’ software as they were four years ago.

The report uncovers a rise in emerging attack trends, including mobile exploits, automated password guessing, and a surge in phishing attacks. An increase in automated shell command injection attacks against Web servers may be a response to successful efforts to eliminate other kinds of Web application vulnerabilities, IBM said.

Approximately 30 percent fewer exploits were released in 2011 than were seen on average over the past four years, the report said. "This improvement can be attributed to architectural and procedural changes made by software developers that help make it more difficult for attackers to successfully exploit vulnerabilities," it said.

IBM’s global spam email monitoring network has seen about half the volume of spam email in 2011 that was seen in 2010, according to the report. "Some of this decline can be attributed to the takedown of several large spam botnets, which likely hindered spammers’ ability to send emails," the company said.

The number of SQL injection vulnerabilities in publicly maintained Web applications dropped by 46 percent in 2011, according to the researchers. "Some attackers have now started to target shell command injection vulnerabilities instead," they said. "These vulnerabilities allow the attacker to execute commands directly on a Web server. Shell command injection attacks rose by two to three times over the course of 2011."

The report says that there is "a lot of automated attack activity on the Internet in which attacks scan the net for systems with weak login passwords." IBM observed a large spike in this sort of password guessing activity directed at secure shell servers (SSH) in the later half of 2011.

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