2006 – The Year of Cybercrime

Targeted attacks by criminals online is a reality at highest-ever levels, says managed Unified Threat Management services company, Network Box – and SMEs are the most vulnerable to them, with the lowest levels of protection in place.

According to the company, virus levels are dropping month on month – in June they made up just 30 percent of all malware – but are being replaced with a much more sinister threat. Cybercriminals are using Worms, Trojans and spyware, which now make up to 70 percent of all malware, to target the most vulnerable sectors of PCs users: smaller businesses and home users who do not have sophisticated anti-virus packages. Research by Network Box shows that SMEs are wide open to network attacks: 63 percent of SMEs have no protection against phishing attacks, 69 percent don’t filter web content to protect themselves from employees downloading harmful content and 50 percent have no protection against spyware.

Says Simon Heron, Technical Director, Network Box: “Techniques that in the past have been used to target big businesses have been revised in order to target those most vulnerable and therefore the most likely to respond. Robbing a small amount of money from a large number of individuals is proving more lucrative than robbing a large sum from a few.”

The key trend of 2006 is the growing sophistication of techniques used to target vulnerable individuals. The botnet has come into its own in the first half of the year, with botnet ‘masters’ continuing to hone and improve techniques to enslave business PCs in order to run software, allowing a system to be controlled without the knowledge of its user. Cells of botnets are getting smaller and therefore almost undetectable.

The increase in botnets has led to a marked increase in both the number and sophistication of phishing attacks, which have developed to include ‘spear phishing’ – a targeted email against an individual that appears to come from a trusted source, eg. from within a company. The combination of botnets, which allow scammers to generate huge numbers of emails, with targeted spear phishing techniques, that allow those emails to appear personal to the individual, results in an effective revenue generator for cyber criminals.

Simon Heron says: “Botnets can be very damaging to the businesses they are exploiting, as well as to their end targets. If a business becomes infected and unwittingly sends out spam containing phishing links, or other malware, it will end up blacklisted by anti-virus filters and therefore unable to do business online. The damage can be difficult to repair.”