Spam spurt fuelled by booming underground economy

Junk mail trebles as crooks barter for IDs

The expanding underground economy is fuelling an identity price war, with unskilled crooks now able to buy full personal identities for pennies, according to the latest edition of Symantec's Internet Threat Report.

The study, published on Tuesday, reports that credit card details, names, addresses and date of births of targeted individuals can be bought for as little as 50 pence. However, the range of prices varies widely, with more prized identities fetching up to £40.

The sale price of credit card details on the underground economy also varies a great deal, from 40 pence to £20. Bank account credentials, meanwhile, sell for as much as £675.

Symantec's study takes a wide-ranging overview of malicious activity, threat activity and cybercrime. Its findings come from data collected by millions of sensors across the world, research and active monitoring of hacker communications.

The security firm added 1.6 million new malicious code signatures to its databases in 2008, 60 per cent of the total number of malicious code signatures ever created by Symantec, in response to the rapidly growing volume of malicious code attacks. Web-based attacks remained the favoured approach to delivering malware.

Of all the vulnerabilities discovered in 2008, 63 per cent affected web applications, up from 59 per cent in 2007.

Botnets remained a security menace, with 90 per cent of all spam distributed through networks of compromised PCs. Symantec recorded an average of 32,188 active bots per day in the EMEA region last year, a 47 per cent increase from 2007, when an average of 21,864 active bots were detected on any one day. Worldwide the security giant tracked an average of 75,000 bots in any one day last year, an increase of 31 per cent on 2007.

Last year Symantec identified 5,147 distinct new bot command-and-control servers in EMEA, of which 40 per cent went through IRC channels and 60 per cent used the web.

Spam volumes all but trebled last year, Symantec reports, increasing from an estimated 119.6 billion messages in 2007 to 349.6 billion in 2008. Phishing fraud also increased with 55,389 phishing website hosts last year, a 66 per cent increase on the 33,428 phishing hosts detected by Symantec in 2007.

"The illegal world of Internet crime is no longer perpetuated by spotty teenagers, it is attracting intelligent adults, very often, in some of the world's developing countries such as Brazil and India," said Guy Bunker, chief scientist at Symantec.

"This booming Underground Economy really is bucking the global recession trend. With over 100,000 malicious codes born every working day, it's not just the technology and code that's getting clever. It's also the approach and the strategy behind each attack." ®

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