Top 10 Security Trends

By Drew Robb

February 08, 2008

Remember when your biggest fear was a virus outbreak? The latest round of threats will make CISO's positively nostalgic for those simpler times.

When it comes to security flaps, the British government takes the 2007 prize. The personal records of about half the population of Britain were copied onto a CD, sent through the mail and lost. No encryption, no registered mail and no idea where they vanished to.

And that's one of the big trends in security.

1. Data Breaches Are on the Rise

"High-profile data breaches underscored the importance of data loss prevention technologies and strategies," says Oliver Friedrichs, director of security response at Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, CA. "Most breaches are due to physical loss of equipment. Theft or loss of computer or other data storage medium made up 46 percent of all data breaches."

2. The Introduction of Vista Provided Hackers with More Holes

About a year ago, Microsoft Vista made its debut. Just how quickly attackers were able to exploit it is evident in the fact that the company has already released 16 security patches.

"We have observed abuse of the driver signing process which can result in allowing malicious code such as a rootkit to load into the kernel without being signed," says Friedrichs.

3. Spam Has Reached Record Levels

Surprisingly, Symantec reports that spam was on a steady decline for the first half of the year. Unfortunately, it rebounded in June and hit an all-time high in October. This meant that 70.5 percent of all email was spam. Of that, image spam fell while PDF spam grew significantly. Greeting-card spam was a new annoyance, and was responsible for delivering the Storm Worm malware (also known as Peacomm).

"E-card spam had become particularly virulent and the trend continued for the latter part of 2007," says Friedrichs. "These evolved to include different hooks intended to lure users into following malicious URLs containing malware."

4. Professional Attack Kits Multiplied

The sophistication and degree of organization of modern day attackers is demonstrated by the fact that they have adopted methods similar to those used in traditional software development. The Mpack toolkit, for example, made a big splash during the year and phishing toolkits were also popular.

5. Phishing — More People Taking the Bait

Phishing continued to be big last year. Symantec reports an 18% increase in unique phishing sites.

"In September, we observed 18,424 unique phishing URLs," says Friedrichs . "Banks continue to be the most phished sector with 52% of these URLs spoofing financial institutions.

6. Trusted Brands are Being Exploited

Attackers have moved away from actively seeking out their intended victims. They prefer to wait for their targets to come to them by compromising trusted sites and applications. When someone visits that site or uses that application, the attacker gains entry to the victim's computer. Social networking sites, in particular, have proven a fruitful area for hackers because they give access to large numbers of people. Such sites are also prone to various other vulnerabilities.

7. Bots and Botnets Continue to Silently Slip onto Computers

Bots perpetrate a wide variety of malicious activity. Bots knocked Estonia off the online map, for instance, and the Storm Worm employed bot technology as well. Bots are became more of a menace in 2007, and 2008 will be no different.

8. ActiveX Gets X-Rated

ActiveX controls pose various security threats that continue to plague IT in 2007. Such threats cause problems with regard to availability, confidentiality and system integrity.

"Users should ensure that the security settings of their client browsers do not allow for scripting of ActiveX controls that are not marked safe for scripting," says Friedrichs. "The browser should prompt for ActiveX controls and deny downloading unsigned ActiveX controls."

9. Vulnerabilities for Sale

The best example was when Wabi Sabi Labi was introduced. It offered an auction-style system for selling vulnerability information to the highest bidder. The resulting controversy sparked much discussion about the ethics of such practices. Regardless of the rights and wrongs, look for more of this kind of activity in 2008.

10. Virtual Machine Security Implications

From a security perspective, the spread of virtualization has opened new doors for hackers to impact the enterprise.

"The speed and ease of provisioning and deploying virtual machines may lull people into complacency about considering proper security of the virtual machine and the environment into which it is deployed," says Friedrichs. "Most data center managers put a lot of thought into architecting the security of their systems and deployments, and the same care should be done for virtual machine configuration and deployment."

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