Alert: Malware on the Rise

Category: Security

Malware developers have been working overtime, according to a recent McAfee Labs Threats Report. The security firm found over 8 million new species of malware in the first quarter of 2012, and the problem is by no means limited to desktop PC users. Mac OS X and smartphone users need to start paying attention to security threats, too...

Malware Increasing On All Platforms

The McAfee Threats Report: First Quarter 2012 indicates the number of malware threats is on the rise, after a lull in the last quarter of 2011. McAfee Labs uses a team of 350 researchers in 30 countries to monitor security threats, and their research shows that viruses, password stealing trojans, rootkits, botnets, spam attacks, and malicious web links are all growing in number. McAfee's database of malware samples now numbers 83 million, and is projected to reach 100 million by year's end.

And surprise... mobile and Mac malware is increasing faster than the PC and desktop varieties. "The same skills and techniques that were sharpened on the PC platform are increasingly being extended to other platforms, such as mobile and Mac; and as more homes and businesses use these platforms the attacks will spread, which is why all users, no matter their platforms, should take security and online safety precautions," said Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs.
Malware Infections 2012

About 8,000 new strains of mobile malware were detected, amounting to 0.1 per cent of the total increase. Malware writers seem to be betting on Android, for which 7,000 new species of malware were found. In the previous quarter, only 600 new Android threats were found. The silver lining here is that almost all of the Android malware came from third-party marketplaces, not the Google-run Android Market. (See my related article Mobile Malware: Are You Exposed?)

For Mac users who have smugly believed that their computers are immune to viruses and other security threats, this news is a wakeup call. McAfee's report says that approximately 250 new Mac malware samples, and approximately 150 new Mac fake anti-virus malware samples, were found in Q1. In addition, the Flashback trojan, which affected over half a million computers running Mac OS X, was a black eye for Apple in April of this year.

Many security experts criticized Apple for being slow to respond to this problem. Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of Kaspersky Labs, recently stated his belief that Apple is "ten years behind Microsoft in terms of security" and that Flashback is only the beginning of a wave of security threats soon to be levelled against the Mac platform. For years, I have argued that the reason why there is less malware for Macs is purely economic. Malware writers go where they can get the biggest return on their "investment." As Mac market share grows, so will the security issues. Kaspersky puts it like this: "Welcome to Microsoft's world, Mac. It's full of malware."

Spam and Botnets March Onward

Spam, which often contains malware attachments or links to malware sites, was a mixed bag in Q1. The good news is that the overall volume of spam decreased slightly. The bad news is that overall spam volume averaged more than ONE TRILLION spam messages per month!

Botnets grew in Q1, with up to 5 million computers infected worldwide. The basic cost of renting a botnet ranges from $450 to $2400 these days. In addition to the other damage they can do, botnets are often used to rapidly probe millions of Web sites for vulnerabilities, and that imposes costs on Web hosts even when their sites are not breached. See Warning, Danger: Botnets! to learn more about botnets.

Probes from botnets may account for half of the traffic received by a modest Web site – one that gets between 50,000 and 100,000 visitors per month – according to security software vendor Incapsula. Small sites may get 83 per cent of their traffic from bots. Bot traffic is a waste of hosting resources, of course; it just raises costs for the hosting service and ultimately for site operators.

Reports generated by security solution vendors are self-serving, obviously, and should be considered in that light. McAfee, for example, does not mention how many of its 83 million malware species have gone extinct over the years. But it's apparent that malware is at least as a big a threat as it ever was. Mac and mobile users should not assume they have little to worry about. McAfee, Kaspersky and Norton all offer paid security products for Mac and mobile platforms now. But you might want to check out Avira Free Mac Security or Avira Free Android Security before spending any money on the commercial products.

Bottom line... if you haven't yet been affected by malware, expect it to come soon. Keep your guard up on all of the platforms you use, and you'll stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

Do you have something to say about malware protection? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Alert: Malware on the Rise"

Posted by:

30 May 2012

Is Avira any "better" or "worse" than Lookout? Norton? Have you evaluated them, or are you suggesting we load more than one of these kinds of security programs "just in case"?

Posted by:

31 May 2012

Have you read Peter Cohan's article about "FireEye"? He says it is the next thing in security.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, but this is for large enterprise networks. FireEye sells an "appliance" for between $15,000 and $120,000.

Posted by:

31 May 2012

Thanks for the alert Bob

Anyone have an anti malware recommendation for my IPhone 3G ?

Posted by:

Don Trotman
01 Jun 2012

How does Linux stand regarding malware?

Posted by:

David Cox
05 Jun 2012

Received a verbal message which came over Skype saying I had a fault on my system and security was being compromised and that I should contact immediately. Is this genuine or a scam. I am having trouble with the sound on the Skype system.Sound is turned very low.

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's a scam.

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