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Blackhole crimeware kit drives web threat spike

Report: Conficker also still causing mayhem

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Fake anti-virus scams are on the wane but drive-by-download threats have rocketed over the past year thanks to the hugely popular Blackhole crimeware kit, while Conficker remains prolific some three years after its release, according to Sophos.

The UK-based security vendor said in its Security Threat Report 2012 (PDF) released today that fake AV levels were 50 per cent lower at the end of 2011 than they were at the start of the year.

Vice president of SophosLabs, Mark Harris, told The Register that although fake AV levels had dropped, it was still the second-most common threat. He said it may just be experiencing a blip as a result of the FBI’s raid on a prolific scareware gang and the arrest of the co-founder of dodgy Russian payment firm ChronoPay in June.

“It’s a dip but they will adapt and move onto other mechanisms. We’ve already seen a technique in Russia where users are encouraged to download an application for free but in order to complete the process they have to text a premium SMS number,” he explained.

“It’s a new trend we’ve seen over the past couple of months and is an example of how malware authors are adapting to get payments another way.”

Drive-by downloads have now become the number one web threat, Sophos said. Ten per cent of threats are now exploit sites, with two-thirds of these the result of popular crimeware kit Blackhole, which generates polymorphic, obfuscated malware that is difficult to detect.

Typical payloads generated by Blackhole include rootkit droppers, fake AV and malware to turn infected machines into botnets, while Java, Flash and PDF vulnerabilities are among the most commonly targeted.

“I fully expect drive-by-downloads to grow this year. It’s partly about end user education filtering through,” said Harris.

“The spam emails the cyber criminals sent with malicious attachments were working but users are now getting more sophisticated and suspicious so they’re forced to move to other techniques. It’s harder for the criminals because once the infection is found the website can be blocked.”

Surprisingly, Sophos also revealed in the report that old timer Conficker is still causing mischief over three years after it was released into the wild. According to the vendor it is the most commonly encountered piece of malware, representing 14.8 per cent of all infection attempts.

Conficker’s continued survival is a result of its aggressive propagation capabilities compounded by poor basic security measures such as patching, and a less than rigorous approach to managing removable and mobile devices, said Harris. ®

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