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Almost half of malicious sites tied to 10 networks

China mostly to blame, but so is Google

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Almost half the websites pushing malware are hosted by just 10 networks, according to a new report that adds new support to the growing argument that a relatively few number of actors are responsible for most of the net-based threats.

The report (PDF) from StopBadware.org also showed a dramatic rise in China's role in the malware epidemic. Six of the 10 networks were internet service providers or backbone providers based in China and hosted more than 41 percent of the malicious websites.

Not that US companies weren't also contributing to the problem. Three American companies also made the list, including Google, whose blogs hosted 4,261 sites, or about 2 percent of the booby-trapped destinations.

The findings come a few weeks after anti-spam outfit Knujon released a separate report that found that almost 75 percent of spam sites were signed up by just 10 registrars. Once again, the three biggest offenders were located in China and included Xinnet Bei Gong Da Software, BEIJINGNN and Todaynic.

In many cases, owners of sites found pushing counterfeit watches, Viagra and other merchandise touted in spam failed to include correct contact information when registering the sites, as required. In an attempt to crack down on abusers, Knujon has begun reporting offenders to ICANN, which requires all website owners to be listed in a whois director. The sheer volume of the complaints has in some cases put a strain on ICANN's servers.

"It's like when you live in a small town and it's a nice place and the mafia moves in," said Knujon co-founder Bob Bruen. "Suddenly, things are not quite what they used to be because the bad guys are there."

Principals at StopBadware say lots of reasons are likely responsible for China's ascension in the rogue's gallery. For one, net access in that country is growing rapidly. And for another, Google bots that scour websites throughout the world are increasingly focusing on Chinese servers, compared with a year ago. Because StopBadware gets its data from Google's Safe Browsing initiative, it's only natural that the heightened attention will find more bad actors in that part of the world.

When StopBadware issued a similar report last year, it was able to help webhosts such as iPowerWeb clean up a large number of customer websites identified as spreading malware. It's unclear what the effect will be this time around, said Maxim Weinstein, manager of StopBadware, which is a project of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

"We hope that by getting this information out there publicly it starts a conversation and gets the ISPs and ... other companies that have an ability to play a role to come to the table and start talking," he said. ®

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