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Cisco Security Report Discusses Criminal Businesses

Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) today released the Cisco 2009 Midyear Security Report, which shows that Internet criminals are increasingly operating like successful businesses, borrowing some of the best strategies from legitimate companies and forming partnerships with one another to help make their illegal activities more lucrative.

Highlights of the report include:

  • The Conficker worm, which began infecting computer systems late last year by exploiting a Windows operating system vulnerability, continues to spread. Several million computer systems were under Conficker’s control as of June 2009.
  • Online criminals are up on current events and making the most of them. After the outbreak of H1N1 influenza (“swine flu”) in April, cybercriminals quickly blanketed the Web with spam that advertised preventive drugs and linked to fake pharmacies.
  • President Barack Obama has made strengthening U.S. cybersecurity a high priority for his administration and looks to work with the international community and the private sector to leverage technology innovations to reduce cybercrime. This focus is expected to have a significant positive impact for the industry in the coming months.

Specific threats outlined in the report include:

  • Botnets. These networks of compromised computers serve as efficient means of launching an attack. Increasingly, botnet owners are renting out these networks to fellow criminals, effectively using these compromised resources to deliver spam and malware via the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.
  • Spam. One of the most established ways to reach millions of computers with legitimate sales pitches or links to malicious Web sites, spam remains a major vehicle for spreading worms and malware, as well as for clogging Internet traffic. A staggering 180 billion spam messages are sent each day, representing about 90 percent of the world’s e-mail traffic.
  • Worms. The rise of social networking has made it easier to launch worm attacks. People engaging in these online communities are more likely to click links and download content they believe were sent by people they know and trust.
  • Spamdexing. Many types of businesses use search engine optimization to be listed more prominently in searches conducted on Google and other sites. Spamdexing, which packs a Web site with relevant keywords or search terms, is increasingly being used by cybercriminals seeking to disguise malware as legitimate software. Because so many consumers tend to trust rankings on leading search engines, they may readily download one of the fake software packages.
  • Text message scams. Since the start of 2009, at least two or three new campaigns have surfaced every week targeting handheld mobile devices. Cisco describes the rapidly growing mobile device audience as a “new frontier for fraud irresistible to criminals.” With some 4.1 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, a criminal may cast an extraordinarily wide net and still walk away with a nice profit, even if the attack yields only a small fraction of victims.
  • Insiders. The global recession has caused many job losses. As a result, insider threats are an increasing concern for businesses in the months ahead. Insiders who commit fraud can be contractors or other third parties as well as current and former employees.

“Securing the Internet has long been a moving target as criminals develop increasingly sophisticated ways to breach corporate networks and obtain valuable personal data,” said Patrick Peterson, Cisco fellow and chief security researcher. “What is striking in our latest findings is how, in addition to using their technical skills to cast a wide net and avoid detection, these criminals are also demonstrating some strong business acumen. They are collaborating with each other, preying on individuals’ greatest fears and interests, and increasingly making use of legitimate Internet tools like search engines and the software-as-a-service model.”


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