Targeted attacks on the rise: Symantec, McAfee

Social networking exploits, Stuxnet worm highlighted

Data breaches, compromised social networks and mobile device security are the biggest problems facing enterprises, according to security experts.

New reports from Symantec and McAfee noted an increase in targeted attacks on enterprises worldwide during 2010, as cyber criminals employed techniques paramount to cyber warfare, such as the Stuxnet worm.

“The nature of the threats has expanded from targeting individual bank accounts to targeting the information and physical infrastructure of nation states,” Symantec’s security technology and response senior vice president, Stephen Trilling, said in a statement.

According to the Symantec report, key exploits over the past year exhibited sophisticated research and social engineering used to infiltrate networks.

“Due to their targeted nature, many of these attacks succeeded even when victim organisations had basic security measures in place,” the report reads.

Cyber criminals were also undertaking more attempts to steal intellectual property or cause physical damage, with an average of 260,000 identities exposed with every breach during the year.

Attacks on Twitter and Facebook continued to grow due to the use of malware in the form of shortened URLs. The abbreviated URLs were used to share a link in an email or on a webpage to an otherwise complicated web address.

An example which surfaced this year in Australia was the Twitter stalker scam, which convinced users to click on a convincing third-party application. Once the application accessed the user's account, it started sending out a post on their Twitter account which read “I just viewed my top 10 stalkers” and included a shortened website link.

Even news feeds on the social networking sites were not immune to attacks and were compromised to mass distribute attacks.

“In a typical scenario, the attacker logs into a compromised social networking account and posts a shortened link to a malicious website in the victim’s status area," the report reads.

"The social networking site then automatically distributes the link to news feeds of the victim’s friends, spreading the link to potentially hundreds or thousands of victims in minutes."

According to Symantec, 65 per cent of malicious links in news feeds observed by Symantec used shortened URLs. Of these, 73 per cent were clicked 11 times or more, with 33 per cent receiving between 11 and 50 clicks.

A similar report from competitor McAfee also showed a shift in focus from physical assets to data breaches.

“Cyber criminals understand there is greater value in selling a corporations’ proprietary information and trade secrets which have little to no protection making intellectual capital their new currency of choice,” McAfee vice president, Simon Hunt, said in a statement.

Attacks such as Operation Aurora had infiltrated some of the largest and protected corporations in the world.

SAS Institute's US-based fraud strategist, Stu Bradley, recently told Computerworld Australia that local and international criminal groups were planting people in banks to gain information about security policies and then bypass them using a method called flash fraud.

The bank "moles", as they are known, establish what appear to be real accounts using details acquired from legitimate customers. Once the accounts are established across multiple banks, the criminals strike and empty the accounts.

Securing mobile devices such as iPads, iPhones and Android devices were highlighted in the McAfee report as a challenge with 62 per cent of IT managers surveyed in countries including Australia as showing a challenge.

The report showed the most significant threat reported by organisations when protecting sensitive information was data leaks.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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