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Hi-tech Crime On The Rise

April 20, 2010

A news survey suggests that hi-tech cyber criminals are causing more than 100 attacks per second on computers around the world.

The survey, conducted by Symantec, says that while most of the attacks have caused no immediate harm, one attack every 4.5 seconds does affect a computer. The annual report states that the wave of attacks was driven by a rise in malware (malicious software) in circulation.

Symantec said that malware samples have risen almost 71 percent from 2008 to 2009. They report that 51 percent of all viruses, trojans and other malicious programs it has ever seen were logged during 2009. Symantec has identified almost 2.9 million items of malicious code during the year.

The exponential rise in malware was driven by the popularity of easy to use kits that amateur cyber criminals are using to create their own malware, according to Tony Osborn, technology manager for the public sector at Symantec.

The kits range in price from free to more than $700. One kit, called Zeus, which sells for around $700, has become a very popular tool for malware creators. The kit is so popular that the creators offer telephone support for those who cannot get them to work.

Symantec says, during 2009, more than 90,000 variants of the Zeus kit were responsible for the growth of one of the most prolific malware groups during the year.

Zeus relies on spam to lure people to websites where it tricks users into installing malware or sneaks on to a computer through a known vulnerability. This can help criminals set up botnets — networks of hijacked PCs that can be used to send mass emails or be purged of personal data. Symantec reports that nearly 7 million unique PCs were members of botnets in 2009.

Osborn said that the main reason for novices to get hold of the kits was simple — “It’s all about money.”

Established criminals are showing no signs of letting up in their attempts to steal sellable information. “It’s easy money and it’s very hard to catch people,” he said.

The report also suggested that professional criminals were fine-tuning their tactics to get better results. Many scour social network sites for info on employees inside companies and craft their spam and messages to capitalize on the details they can acquire.

The continued growth of cyber crime has started to put stress on many developing nations that are starting to see more and more attacks. Brazil and India are hot spots for cyber crime, said Osborn.

It is because the infrastructure in those countries are rapidly improving as people begin using broadband and connect to the web more and more. Osborn said that, in these areas, education and understanding about computer security is taking a while to catch on.

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