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Phishermen, not zombies, causing biggest security woes

McAfee issues revised forecast

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Data-swiping phishing sites are causing a greater security headache than expected while botnet numbers have taken an unexpected dip over recent months, according to revised security predictions by net security firm McAfee.

McAfee Avert Labs recorded a 784 per cent increase in phishing websites in the first quarter of 2007 compared to the same period last year, with no slowdown in sight.

"As we approach the midyear mark, we wanted to check on our crystal ball gazing skills," said Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Avert Labs and product development. "As we predicted, professional and organised criminals continue to drive a lot of the malicious activity on the net. However, we were surprised that mobile malware and image spam tapered off."

Image spam is so named because it includes an image instead of just text. These junk mail messages typically advertise goods and services such as stocks, pharmaceuticals, and degrees. Image spam accounted for 40 per cent of spam in November 2006 and up to 65 per cent of all spam at the beginning of 2007, but this figure has dropped off recently. Overall spam levels have remained static.

McAfee reckons its other security predictions made at the start of the year are panning out. In particular, it warned that video on the web would become a target for hackers and the prevalence of rootkits on 32-bit machines would increase. About 200,000 computers have been infected with rootkits (malign programs that hide their presence on infected systems) since the beginning of 2007, according to Avert Labs' virus tracking mechanism, a 10 per cent increase over the first quarter of 2006.

One prediction that hasn't panned out is McAfee's expectation that more legitimate companies would try advertising software (ie adware) to target consumers. Because adware has a bad reputation, firms have shied away from the approach and tried different tactics instead. BitTorrent, for example, is establishing a trend by offering free ad-supported video downloads as an alternative to paid downloads. ®

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