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Anti-spam success drives malware authors downmarket

Spam to scam scramble

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Crooks are turning to spyware scams because it's getting harder to make money from spam, according to a leading UK anti-virus expert. "Spam is less effective because of improved anti-spam filters, so crooks are looking at phishing, ID theft, and stealing information on demand to make money," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.

Two weeks ago a UK government agency issued an unprecedented security warning that British firms were being targeted in a series of specially crafted Trojan horse attacks, many reportedly originating from the Far East. The UK's National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC) warned the goal of this cyber-blitz was the "covert gathering or transmitting of commercially or economically valuable information".

Anti-virus experts speaking during a Digital mafia roundtable discussion in London on Thursday agreed that the face of malware threats was changing. Patrik Runald, senior technical consultant at F-Secure, said the number of malware outbreaks is down as virus writers are moving away from large-scale attacks that draw attention to themselves towards targeted attacks.

Simon Perry, CA's VP of security strategy in EMEA, added that digital attacks fell into three categories: volume attacks against consumers (e.g. spam), assaults against electronic storefronts and industrial espionage attacks. Although experts on the panel agreed that the malware threat was changing and becoming more closely linked to criminal gangs, they were split on whether "old school virus writers had fallen in with a bad crowd" or a different group of people had gotten into the creation of malicious code.

Pete Simpson, ThreatLab Manager at security firm CLEARSWIFT, said ISPs were key in the fight to contain malicious code, but end users (for easily falling for social engineering tricks), software vendors and universities also came in for criticism. CA's Perry cited a case of software developers graduating from a unnamed university having studied secure coding techniques for just two days during a three-year course. Security holes in applications make up an increasing category of threats so greater attention ought to be paid to education the next generation of developers about best practices, he argued. ®

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