Security Experts:

Report: Criminals Shift Attack Strategies as Malicious Domains Rise 89%

New data from Internet Identity (IID), taken from its quarterly eCrime report, says that the jump in the number of websites hosting malware, as well as a stronger focus on targeted phishing attacks, is causing cybercriminals to shift gears.

From July to September of 2011, the number of domains hosting malware climbed 89% when compared to the totals in Q2 2011. This third quarter jump is blamed on the return of a Phishing gang known as Avalanche. In 2009, Avalanche was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the Phishing related attacks on the Web in the second half of the year.

Based on its tracking, IID says that Avalanche's return is the reason the number of malicious domains has shot up, and they can be tied to the drop in traditional phishing, which fell 8% for the quarter.

Similarly, IID found an 11 percent year over year decline in traditional phishing attacks between Q3 2011 and the same quarter in 2010. Money transfer and e-commerce phishing showed the largest areas of decline while phishing attacks impersonating national banks stayed strong.  

"We knew Avalanche would resurface and it is apparent that they have made a conscious decision to provide their massive botnet as an infrastructure for hire. The most prevalent use of their network are sites that attempt to get victims to install malware on their computers," said IID President and CTO Rod Rasmussen.

According to the report, the most impersonated organizations include the FDIC, U.S. Federal Reserve, IRS and NACHA (National Automated Clearing House Association), for Q3, each of them an Avalanche-related attack.

"Cybercriminals are always trying to adapt to the latest security methods and threat awareness, and as an industry we must stay one step ahead of these increasingly sophisticated cyber gangs," added Rasmussen.

In related phishing news, after a 600% increase in phishing attacks in Q2, 2011, the .tk registry partnered with IID, Facebook and the Anti-Phishing Alliance of China (APAC) to secure the .tk top-level domain.

The agreements allow IID, Facebook and APAC to connect their anti-abuse systems with .tk's domain name database, enabling .tk domain names to be blocked immediately when an electronic report of wrongdoing is received. .tk-based phishing dropped 40% in the third quarter.

Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.