Phishing, pharming and bots

Monday, June 28th, 2010



“Lions and tigers and bears–oh my!” Dorothy and her companions chant to ward off their fears in The Wizard of Oz. Internet users might try, “Trojans and rootkits and bots!”

Dorothy’s fears were mostly imaginary, but the threats online are all too real–and growing. Malware, malicious software, has become a leading online scourge, evolving in a short decade from so-called worms and viruses conceived principally to vandalize, to sophisticated spyware and crimeware designed to steal– money, information and identities.

Kaspersky Lab, a security firm specializing in combating malware, collected nearly 34 million malicious programs by year-end of 2009–including some 15 million each in 2008 and 2009. In its Security Bulletin 2009, the company says “programs became significantly more complex in 2009 and targeted new platforms such as mobile operating systems.”

Symantec, a leading online security company, says on its web site, “The threat landscape once dominated by the worms and viruses unleashed by irresponsible hackers is now ruled by a new breed of cybercriminals.”

Malware has long been delivered hiding inside trojans–innocent-appearing emails or software. In an irony only a cyber criminal could appreciate, 2009 saw big increases in rogue antivirus software used as malware delivery vehicles, according to Kaspersky. Once launched, rootkit programs keep the invasive software concealed.

Phishing is a favorite technique

Emails that use fear or enticement to encourage recipients to click on a link or visit a web site that steals or corrupts their data. Pharming programs are even more insidious–they redirect unsuspecting users to fraudulent web sites, even if the user types in a correct URL. The bad guy’s goal is installation of spyware on your computer or network–programs that log your keystrokes, steal usernames and passwords, or enable access of your bank or credit card accounts.

Yet another set of applications can turn your computer into a zombie or bot–essentially a dedicated slave used by cyber criminals to launch anonymous spam assaults or distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against the online presence of a company, organization or entire nation. Estonia, Georgia, South Korea and the United States have been targets of DDoS attacks in recent years.

The complexity and sophistication of cyber crime grows quickly, but–fortunately–some of the best defenses remain straightforward and based in common sense. Don’t open (and do delete) unsolicited emails. Don’t click on unfamiliar links, even if sent by someone you know (their computer could be being used as a bot). Don’t download software from a strange web site (no matter how enticing the deal)! Scan all emails and files with a recognized antivirus security program. Keep all security patches up-to-date.

Online threats are real. You need more than a catchy chant to protect yourself.

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