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Hackers ahead of the game despite McColo shutdown

One step forward, two steps back

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The recent takedown of a notorious botnet-friendly web-host was a major victory for the good guys but the cybercrime outlook remains grim, according to a flurry of annual reports from security vendors published on Tuesday. The reports collectively show that the internet remains a cesspool of malware and that crooks continue to have no trouble in duping ordinary surfers into getting infected.

The prevalence of booby-trapped websites is growing at an alarming rate. One new infected webpage was discovered by anti-virus firm Sophos every 4.5 seconds, three times the rate it recorded last year.

Malware contained in email attachments steadily went out of fashion over the last couple of years or so but made a return this summer. Since August, Sophos has noted a strong resurgence in the tactic, albeit in a slightly different guise. Instead of buried executables, booby-trapped Word and PDF documents are becoming more commonplace. (Security vendor Finjan agrees that PDF and Flash is becoming a vehicle of malware distribution in its latest quarterly report - registration required).

Sophos is logging five times more malicious email attachments at the end of 2008 than it did at the beginning of the year.

China and Russia often get blamed as global centres of cybercrime, but insecure US servers and PCs are a far greater problem. The US hosts 37 per cent of malware-infected websites, with China a little way behind in second place (27.7 per cent) and Russia back in the third spot (9.1 per cent).

"The US needs to clean up its act", Graham Cluley, senior security consultant at Sophos told El Reg.

A survey by Trend Micro revealed that only five per cent of malware infections resulted from the exploit of a software vulnerability. An analysis of the top 100 items of malware revealed that 53 per cent worked by duping users into downloading a malicious file, while 12 per cent operated through infected email attachments, ComputerWorld reports.

Rival security firm McAfee reckons cybercrime is prospering partly as a result of the economic chaos created by the credit crunch. It reckons more people signing up to add malicious code to websites and that phishing fraudsters are having an easier job recruiting money mules, for example. McAfee reached these conclusions after interviewing academics, criminal lawyers, law enforcement authorities and security experts globally for its annual Virtual Criminology report, published on Tuesday.

Greg Day, a security analyst at McAfee, said that not enough ministerial attention was devoted to cybercrime, which has slipped down the pecking order as a result of the credit crunch.

Looking at the UK specifically, Day said that Home Office approval of the creation of a Police Central E-Crime Unit next year was a good first step, but he criticised the level of funding, at £7m, and the Brown administration's lack of urgency in addressing cybercrime concerns highlighted by House of Lords hearings earlier this year.

Day added that greater international cooperation in fighting cybercrime was needed. He criticised the UK, like 22 other countries, for failing to ratify the Council of Europe convention on cybercrime. ®

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