Microsoft highlights malware problem

Cyber-criminals changed tactics in the last six months of 2007, with a steep rise in malware as a tool for targeting computer users for profit, according to Microsoft’s newly-released Security Intelligence Report.

The report focuses on the second half of 2007 and uses data derived from a range of tools running on approximately 450 million computers worldwide to provide an in-depth, global view of software vulnerabilities, software exploits, malicious software and potentially unwanted software.

Microsoft saw the number of Trojan downloader programs it removed from Windows machines jump by 300 percent, said Microsoft SA’s security expert Colin Erasmus.

“These programs masquerade as legitimate pieces of software, but once installed, they then download malicious software such as spyware or adware onto the victim’s computer. They are typically installed via the Web.”

The report showed an overall decline in new security vulnerability disclosures by 15% for the second half of 2007 and a decrease in total vulnerability disclosures by 5% for all of 2007. Vulnerabilities are weaknesses in software that allow an attacker to compromise the integrity, availability or confidentiality of that software.

The data reveals a 300% increase in the number of trojan downloaders and droppers- malicious code used to install files on users’ systems – illustrating that the malware category continues to grow in popularity among attackers.

The report shows a 66.7% increase in the number of potentially unwanted software detections – programs that may impact user privacy or security by performing actions the person may not want – between 1 July and 31 Dec, with a total of 129.5 million pieces of potentially unwanted software found on users’ systems.

“This latest report supports our position that today’s threats continue to be motivated by monetary gain, and it also gives us a solid view of vulnerability and exploit trends,” said Erasmus.

“We’re also seeing that as system administrators become better at blocking threats, criminals are shifting their attention to social engineering, where people are tricked into giving details.”

  • Other key findings from Microsoft’s report included:
    The total number of malware items removed by Microsoft’s tool was up 55% from the first six months of 2007.
  • Adware is still the most common form of unwanted software, and was up 66% in the second half of the year to 34.3 million detections. The most common piece of adware for the period was Win32/Hotbar, which installs a toolbar that spews pop-up ads onto the PC.
  • Up to 80% of phishing pages tracked by the Microsoft Phishing Filter were in English, and there is a clear trend of phishing moving from e-mail onto social networks.
  • Microsoft fixed fewer bugs in 2007 than in the previous year. The company released 69 security updates, fixing 100 bugs in 2007 – a drop of 30% from the 142 vulnerabilities it fixed in 2006.

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Microsoft highlights malware problem