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Mobile Threats Trending Upward, More Connected Devices Mean More Threats

McAfee’s latest threat report released today, shows continued growth of threats to mobile platforms as many predicted would be a trend in 2011. The McAfee Threats Report: Fourth Quarter 2010, also revealed that the number of pieces of new mobile malware in 2010 increased by 46 percent compared with 2009, noting that McAfee uncovered 20 million new pieces of malware in 2010, equating to nearly 55,000 new malware threats every day.

McAfee’s latest threat report released today, shows continued growth of threats to mobile platforms as many predicted would be a trend in 2011. The McAfee Threats Report: Fourth Quarter 2010, also revealed that the number of pieces of new mobile malware in 2010 increased by 46 percent compared with 2009, noting that McAfee uncovered 20 million new pieces of malware in 2010, equating to nearly 55,000 new malware threats every day. In August, security firm Sophos reported that in first half of 2010, it received an average of 60,000 new malware samples every day, about 1 every 1.4 seconds. Of the almost 55 million total pieces of malware McAfee Labs has identified, 36 percent was created in 2010.

Threats to mobile platforms aren’t new. However, as more consumers use mobile devices and tablets in their daily lives and at work, cybercriminals have taken note. During the last several years, McAfee Labs has seen a steady growth in the number of threats to mobile devices. Some of the most interesting mobile threats of Q4 2010 were SymbOS/Zitmo.A and Android/Geinimi. SymbOS/Zitmo.A was a high-profile threat that struck early in the quarter. The creators of the Zeus botnet repurposed an old version of a commercial spyware package. Android/Geinimi, a Trojan inserted into legitimate mobile applications and games for the Android platform, was one of the most important threats of the quarter.

With the adoption of so many new mobile platforms, combined with the lack of security awareness and mobile safeguards, McAfee Labs expects cybercriminals to use botnet infections to target mobile devices. In Q4 2010, Cutwail was dethroned as the global leader in botnet activity, with Rustock the most prevalent in many parts of the world, and Bobax closely trailing behind the two.

“Our Q4 Threats Report shows that cybercriminals are keeping tabs on what’s popular, and what will have the biggest impact from the smallest effort,” said Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs. “In the past few quarters, malware trends have been very similar in different geographies, but in the last quarter we’ve seen a significant shift in various regions, showing that cybercriminals are tapped in to trends worldwide. McAfee Labs also sees the direct correlation between device popularity and cybercriminal activity, a trend we expect to surge in 2011.”

Malware on the Rise; Spam in a “Transition Period”

The onslaught of malware seems to have no end, and the proliferation of both handled and IP-enabled devices’ affect on this growth remains to be seen. The top malware threats in Q4 2010 were very different in various geographies, due in part to the larger trend that threats now tend to match the types of users, habits and events that are specific to a region. Favorites for cybercriminals worldwide this quarter consisted of AutoRun malware (Generic!atr), banking Trojans and downloaders (PWS or Generic.dx), as well as web-based exploits (StartPage and Exploit-MS04-028).

McAfee also report that spam accounted for 80 percent of total email traffic in Q4 2010, the lowest point since the first quarter of 2007. Symantec recently reported that it was seeing spam levels at the lowest rate since March 2009, when the global spam rate was 75.7 percent of all email traffic, according to its January 2011 MessageLabs Intelligence Report released last month.

McAfee suggests that spam levels hitting the lowest levels in years can be attributed to a “transition period,” with several botnets going dormant during a time of year when spam volumes are usually on an upward path. In Q4, McAfee Labs learned the Bredolab botnet had been closed along with parts of the Zeus botnet. Around the Christmas holiday, spam from the Rustock, Lethic, and Xarvester botnets all disappeared, while the spam leaders this quarter were the Bobax and Grum botnets.

More Devices Mean More Web Threats

As more users access the Internet from an ever-expanding pool of devices—computer, tablet, smartphone or Internet TV—web-based threats will continue to grow in size and sophistication. In December, security researchers from Mocana discovered several security flaws in one of the best-selling brands of Internet-connected HDTVs. Mocana was able to demonstrate that JavaScript could be injected into the normal datastream, allowing attackers to obtain total control over the device’s Internet functionality, and believe it’s likely that similar security flaws exist in other Internet TVs.

In Q4, some of the most active threats included Zeus-Murofet, Conficker and Koobface, and the number of potentially malicious domains grew at a rapid pace. Phishing URLs in the form of the IRS, gift cards, rewards accounts, and social networking accounts were also among the most popular. McAfee Labs found that within the top 100 results of the top daily search terms, 51 percent led to malicious sites, and on average each of these poisoned results pages contained more than five malicious links. McAfee Labs expects attacks using the techniques of search-engine abuse and trend abuse to focus more specifically on new types of devices in 2011.

Adobe Product Vulnerabilities are Top Distribution Method of Choice for Cybercriminals

In 2009, McAfee Labs predicted that vulnerabilities in Adobe product would become the clear choice of malware authors and cybercriminals for distribution malware and compromising systems and networks. This prediction has come true. Throughout 2010 malware developers have heavily exploited weaknesses in both Flash and especially PDF technologies. McAfee Labs databases reveal that malicious PDFs targeting Adobe Acrobat topped the number of unique samples by a wide margin, making them the favorite target of client-side exploitation. McAfee Labs is certain that the “Adobe” trend will continue this year, as more mobile devices and non-Microsoft operating systems support various Adobe technologies.

Written By

For more than 10 years, Mike Lennon has been closely monitoring the threat landscape and analyzing trends in the National Security and enterprise cybersecurity space. In his role at SecurityWeek, he oversees the editorial direction of the publication and is the Director of several leading security industry conferences around the world.

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