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Crims prefer old exploits: Microsoft

Zero-day threat is overrated

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While media around the world are excited by the announcement of every new zero-day vulnerabilities, attackers yawn, according to Microsoft.

Presenting Volume 11 of its Security Intelligence Report at the RSA Conference in Europe on October 11, Microsoft pointed out that less than one percent of the attacks its report identified were trying to exploit zero-day vulnerabilities.

The report finds that most malware propagates through user interaction – in short, getting users to fail the malware IQ test and click on a malicious link or application – while more than one-third of malware exploits Win32/Autorun on the insertion of media like USB keys.

Moreover, the research finds that 90 percent of infections exploited a vulnerability for which a patch had been available for more than a year. This is well in line with research from Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate, which in July identified application and operating system patching as two of the four most important attack mitigation strategies available to IT managers.

Interestingly, given the general belief that the world is in the midst of a malware apocalypse, the report also finds encouraging trends in the first half of this year. “Medium and high severity vulnerabilities disclosed in 1H11 were down 6.8 percent and 4.4 percent from 2H10, respectively,” the report notes, while “low complexity vulnerabilities – the easiest ones to exploit – were down 41.2 percent from the prior 12-month period.”

Java exploits – including JRE, JVM and JDK vulnerabilities – dominate the landscape, while the CV-2010-2568 vulnerability (used by the Stuxnet family) drove an increase in operating system-level exploits, the report states. The report also observed nearly a million Acrobat and Adobe Reader document format exploits, nearly all of which involved the Win32/Pdfjsc exploit family.

Vinny Gullotto, general manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, told the RSA Conference the data in the report “helps remind us that we can’t forget the basics.

“Techniques such as exploiting old vulnerabilities, Win32/Autorun abuse, password cracking and social engineering remain lucrative approaches for criminals.”

Phishers seem to be shifting their tactics as well, from their older preference for financial sites to targeting social media sites, which got 83.8 percent of malicious page impressions in April, the report finds.

“Overall, impressions that targeted social networks accounted for 47.8 percent of all impressions in 1H11, followed those that targeted financial institutions at 35.0 percent,” the report says. ®

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