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Jonathan Erickson

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Security Report Released; Browser plug-ins and gamers are targets

July 28, 2008

According to the just released IBM X-Force 2008 Midyear Trend Statistics security report, 94 percent of all browser-related online exploits occurred within 24 hours of official vulnerability disclosure. These "zero-day" exploits are on the Internet before people even know they have a vulnerability that needs to be patched in their systems.

The report believes that criminals' adoption of automated tools for creating and delivering exploit tools, and the lack of a set protocol for disclosing vulnerabilities in the research industry, are behind the trend. Disclosing exploit code and a security advisory has been accepted practice for many security researchers although, says the report, vulnerabilities disclosed by independent researchers are twice as likely to have zero-day exploit code published.

From his perspective, X-Force Operations Manager Kris Lamb believes "the two major themes in the first half of 2008 were acceleration and proliferation. We see a considerable acceleration in the time a vulnerability is disclosed to when it is exploited, with an accompanying proliferation of vulnerabilities overall. Without a unified process for disclosing vulnerabilities, the research industry runs the risk of actually fueling online criminal activity. There's a reason why X-Force doesn't publish exploit code for the vulnerabilities we have found, and perhaps it is time for others in our field to reconsider this practice."

Findings from the X-Force report include:

  • Browser plug-ins are the target-of-choice. The threat landscape has evolved from the operating system to the Web browser to browser plug- ins. In the first six months of 2008, roughly 78 percent of web browser exploits targeted browser plug-ins.
  • One-off manual attacks are growing into massive automated attacks. More than half of all vulnerability disclosures were related to web server applications. SQL injection vulnerabilities, in particular, jumped from 25 percent in 2007 to 41 percent of all web server application vulnerabilities in the first half of 2008, and corresponded with a rash of automated attacks that compromised servers in an effort to compromise more endpoint systems.
  • Spammers go back to basics. The complex spam of 2007 (image-based spam, file attachment spam, etc.) has almost disappeared and now spammers are using simple URL spam. This spam generally consists of a few simple words and a URL, making it difficult for spam filters to detect. Approximately 90 percent of spam is now URL spam.
  • Russia continues to be origin of most spam. Russia is responsible for 11 percent of the world's spam followed by Turkey with 8 percent and then the U.S. with 7.1 percent.
  • Online gamers are targets. As online games and virtual communities continue to gain popularity, they are becoming an enticing target for cyber- criminals. The X-Force report indicates that the top four password-stealing Trojans were all aimed at gamers. The goal is to steal gamers' virtual assets selling them for real money in online market places.
  • Financial institutions remain key targets for phishers. All but two of the top 20 phishing targets were financial institutions.
  • Secure virtualization grows in importance. Virtualization-related vulnerability disclosures have tripled since 2006 and are likely to increase as virtualized environments become more widespread.

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