Unsung software developers behind rise in online fraud

Tool kits spark explosion in malicious code base, says Symantec

MPack is a menu-driven platform that makes it easy to infect vulnerable websites. Once they are compromised, the websites then exploit any one of several unpatched vulnerabilities in software used by people visiting those sites. End user machines that are pwned in turn generate spam designed to lure more visitors to those sites.

The technique unleashed a synergy that didn't exist with exploits of a few years ago. The notorious Code Red, for example, attacked a single service running in Microsoft Windows, then simply moved on in search of other vulnerable systems.

Of course, MPack is by no means the only malware tool kit available, and use of such tool kits are by no means limited to the past nine months. But the Symantec report suggests they are playing a bigger role in just about every aspect of online fraud. For instance, just three toolkits were responsible for 42 per cent of all phishing attacks observed by Symantec in the first half of the year.

"The degrees to which these applications are supported and the caliber of the applications certainly leads us to believe there is a concerted team behind the development of these tools that are running [software development] as a business," Friedrichs said.

Among other findings in the report:

The United States continues to be the epicenter for much of fraud happening online. It was the top location for servers hosting underground forums, where stolen credit cards of other types of accounts are sold. Eighty-five percent of credit cards sold in forums were issued by US banks. The US was home to 59 per cent of the servers hosting phishing sites and was the point of origin for 47 per cent of the world's spam. Ten percent of spam zombies were located in the US, higher than any other country.

China had 29 per cent of the word's bot-infected computers, the highest of any country. Beijing alone accounted for seven per cent of the world-wide total.

Symantec documented 39 vulnerabilities in the Internet Explorer browser, down from 54 in the second half of 2006. Vulnerabilities in Mozilla-related browsers dropped to 34, from a previous total of 40. Meanwhile, vulnerabilities in Apple's Safari browser sky-rocketed to 25, more than five times as many documented last period. Opera had seven, up from four. ®

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