Five top trends in security threats

January 31, 2012 by ofonseca

Just as technology is continuously evolving, so are the wily ways in which fraudsters circumvent the safeguards for changing technologies.  Symantec’s study Internet Security Threat Report offers a review of where cyber thieves are finding new opportunities and, accordingly, where experts believe the thorniest security trouble spots lie.

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According to Symantec, here are the top five threats to beware of:

1. Targeted attacks continue to evolve.  While targeted attacks on the large infrastructures of corporations are attempted almost every day, companies are increasingly being attacked to specifically gain access to their intellectual property.  A prominent example of this would be last year’s “Hydraq” attack on Google, a suspected politically motivated attack to steal sensitive information from Gmail accounts, which prompted Google to threaten to pull its operations out of China.  Given that this attack wouldn’t have been successful without convincing recipients that links and attachments in an email were from a known source, the lesson for future attackers is that the biggest security vulnerability to exploit is our trust of friends and colleagues.

2. Social networks + social engineering = compromise.  Hackers are getting better at learning who we are through social media outlets and posing as friends.  So-called social engineering attacks are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect.

3. Hide and seek (zero-day vulnerabilities and rootkits).  In order to be successful, targeted attacks must penetrate an organization and remain undetected for as long as possible.  So-called “zero day vulnerabilities” help hackers maintain a game of hide and seek.  Zero days occur when a hacker discovers (and exploits) a security vulnerability in a software program before the program’s engineers do, although some believe that the fear of these vulnerabilities as a basis for attacks are worse than the reality.  Rootkits, software that enables continued privileged access to a computer while actively hiding its presence from administrators by subverting standard operating system functionality or other applications, are also helpful in keeping hackers undetected.

4. Attack kits get a caffeine boost.  Hackers are profiting on security vulnerabilities by packaging their discoveries into easily downloadable attack kits that are sold in the underground fraud economy.  Symantec believes that these kits played a role in creating over 286 million variants of malware last year.

5. Mobile threats increase.  With the explosive usage of smart phones and other mobile devices, hackers are naturally becoming ever more drawn to this territory as a platform for fraud.   Sophisticated operating systems mean that vulnerabilities are plentiful, and Trojans hidden in legitimate applications sold on app stores offer an effective means to multiply the damage.

Fraudsters will never stop finding ways to capitalize on security weaknesses and wreak havoc on privacy and bottom lines, which is why every business should work with security experts to stay ahead of these threats.