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BLOG: Don’t let malware overrun your boundaries

Sasi Murthy | April 11, 2011
Web threats challenge traditional security defences by exploiting unsuspecting users.

In the battle against cyber crime, there is one undisputable fact: the bad guys are working harder, faster and smarter than the average Web user. These organised criminal operations have an astonishing grasp of online human behaviour and know how to use social engineering tactics and Web 2.0 technologies to lure users to malware. While users have become more aware of hoaxes and scams sent through e-mail, they are still far too trusting of content sent from a "friend" or familiar organisation on a social networking site. This new threat environment leverages Web 2.0 technologies and is far more advanced than today's users and the current defences they are using, which means a whole new security approach is needed.

User 1.0 and Web 2.0 vs. Malware 3.2

Although e-mail threats still exist (think "Canadian Pharmacy" and "I lost my bag on an international trip" scams), e-mail is no longer the primary delivery vehicle for malware. There are two reasons for this: First, e-mail security solutions have improved greatly. But more important, users have learned not to open suspicious attachments or click on URLs included in e-mail from anonymous sources.

While the online community overall has become more aware of e-mail scams, most people are still at the User 1.0 level when confronted with new Web-based threats. For instance, many users still exercise poor security habits, such as assigning the same username and password to multiple online accounts. With the widespread adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, bad guys have a new way to bait users and distribute malware.  In fact, these technologies have contributed to an acceleration of the threat lifecycle, allowing bad guys to quickly create, launch and evolve Web threats to stay ahead of the defences. If users are at version 1.0 and Web technologies are at version 2.0 then, malware has advanced to version 3.2. And organisations need security 3.3 to protect themselves and their employees.

Social networking: A cyber criminal's dream

 Social networking sites that leverage Web 2.0 technologies have become such popular targets for cyber crime for several reasons:

  • It's where the users are. To be effective, cyber criminals go where they can find the most victims - and today, that means social networking sites. The number of Facebook users alone surpassed 500 million in 2010. And that number only continues to grow. In fact, today, more users have social networking accounts than webmail accounts.
  • They can exploit trust. While the same user won't open an e-mail from someone they don't know, they will "friend" people they don't know in real life and click on a URL sent from someone within their network. This blind trust is a golden opportunity for bad guys that just need to acquire login credentials to reach all "friends" of the victim. This trust is key to spreading malware through social networks.
  • Social networking is no longer just social. It's now a common communication tool for businesses of all sizes. In fact, 70 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses rely on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media for essential business services such as customer communication, training videos and content distribution. But in 2010, 30 per cent of all small and medium-sized businesses were infected with malware spread through social networks - a strong indication that traditional firewall and desktop anti-virus protection is no longer adequate to block these threats.


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