Java, Adobe vulns blamed for Windows malware mayhem
Five products hit in 99.8% of hacks
Failure to patch third-party applications has become the main reason that Windows machines get infected with malware.
Drive-by download attacks from hacker-controlled websites loaded with exploits replaced infected email attachments as the main distribution method for malware somewhere between three to five years ago. At the start of this period browser exploits were the main stock-in-trade for VXers but this has changed over time, as a study by Danish security firm CSIS and published on Tuesday illustrates.
Up to 85 per cent of all virus infections happen as the result of drive-by attacks served up via commercial exploit kits, CSIS reports. The security consultancy, which specialises in e-crime research, monitored the behaviour of 50 different exploit kits over a period of three months, analysing the causes of infection of both commercial and consumer systems.
The study discovered that 31.3 per cent of 500,000 users who were exposed to exploit toolkits were secretly force-fed malware as a result of missing security updates.
Systems running vulnerable versions of Java JRE, Adobe Reader and Acrobat, and Adobe Flash were particularly at risk of attack. Vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer, by contrast, only cropped up in 10 per cent of attacks. By contrast, Java flaws (37 per cent), Adobe Reader/Acrobat (32 per cent) and Flash (16 per cent) were far more productive routes towards exploit. Apple QuickTime holes were poked in two per cent of attacks. Infected systems are typically loaded with a cocktail of malware, often including fake anti-virus software (AKA scareware) and information-stealing spyware.
CSIS concludes that "99.8 per cent of all virus/malware infections caused by commercial exploit kits are a direct result of the lack of updating five specific software packages".
More information of the study – which illustrates the primary importance of patching alongside anti-virus defences – can be found here. CSIS research Peter Kruse explained that anti-virus still has a role to play in guarding against malware infection while stressing the point that relying on security software without improving patching practices is bound to result in trouble.
"Anti-virus is still needed however the ways to circumvent AV detection are many and works at different levels eg, the exploit kit authors sometime provide SLA (Service Level Agreement) and guarantees that the code is not picked up by AV," Kruse told El Reg. "This is usually done by slightly changing the code and obfuscating it. The payload is often tricked past AV using complex packers."
"Obviously this put the pressure on both private end users and companies to patch regularly. For most companies the patch management is sometimes troublesome and time consuming but very much needed to avoid modern malware," he added. ®
99.8% of what, exactly?
"99.8 per cent of all virus/malware infections caused by commercial exploit kits are a direct result of the lack of updating five specific software packages"
Umm, yes, that quote does appear in the linked article. However, it is unsupported by the evidence in their pie charts...
3% HCP (Windows Help)
The first five add up to only 98%, not 99.8% and presumably the collection of six has been normalised to 100%, since other vectors exist, so I think either the "5" or the "99.8" must be wrong. Be that as it may...
...Am I alone in being depressed that the original purpose of #1 was to be a sandbox and the original purpose of the next 5 was (or certainly ought to have been) the presentation of dumb content?
Hackers will go for the largest possible target... A few years ago when 95% of web users ran IE it made an attractive target, now that it is down to 40% it's less interesting.
On the other hand, the programs which are being targeted are still on over 90% of users machines, including those using non-IE browsers.
If these programs had competitors such that the market was split up, then they would be much less attractive targets too. Monocultures are very bad for security.
Another problem that compounds the issue, is the lack of a centralised package system on windows... Every app needs its own crufty update system, which waste resources and end up getting turned off. Linux has a much better approach, add your repository to the system package manager and then it will get updated at the same time as everything else.
"but what I really want it the equivilent of flashblock for all 3rd part plugin content."
It's called "Browse without add-ons" and it's been available since IE7.
As for preventing "drive-by infections," do you still surf as an administrator? I hope you at least have UAC turned on in Win7.
It's funny; two years on Win7, at least nine years on Win2K and I haven't lost a PC to those jokers, yet everyone around me has nothing but trouble. It's not like I use any secret CIA / MI6 / CSIS techniques. I just use what's built in to Windows and I just don't install garbage that needs admin access to run anymore.