Targeted attacks rise, retail sector under siege

These attacks are typically aimed at corporative executives, to fool them into opening malicious attachments or links so the perpetrators can take control of desktop computers.

Targeted attacks via fraudulent and dangerous e-mail are on the rise, according to a Symantec report published today. These attacks are typically aimed at corporative executives, to fool them into opening malicious attachments or links so the perpetrators can take control of desktop computers.

Spam nation: U.S. tops list of spam-producing countries

In the September/October timeframe, 77 targeted attacks per day were intercepted, compared to 60 per day in the prior month, according to the Symantec October 2010 MessageLabs Intelligence Report, which is based on Symantec's e-mail filtering and analysis. For the first time, the retail sector is the hardest hit industry, rising from fewer than 0.5 per cent of all attacks over the past two years to about 25 per cent in the past month.

"The targets are widening from large international organizations to small- to mid-sized businesses," says Paul Wood, senior analyst within Symantec's MessageLabs Intelligence division. "The spike that stood out is in the retail sector, where we haven't seen that before." Targeted attacks have been far more common against the public sector and the pharmaceutical industry, for instance, he notes.

Worst moments in network security history

Wood compares targeted attacks to "sniper warfare." Attackers send legitimate-looking e-mail that appears to be from the human resources or IT staff, for example, to go after what the attackers hope are high-value targets.

In many cases, the goal may be to gain intelligence about company operations. The latest round in particular seems to be "a competitive type of attack" to gain information that could be of use to a competitor, says Wood, who speculates that "it's an industrial espionage sort of thing."

Unlike broader blasts of spam that can also contain dangerous attachments and links, targeted e-mail attacks are far smaller in volume.  In the past month, the targeted e-mail attacks that Symantec detected and blocked were aimed at 286 organizations in total, went after six retail companies, and included 516 separate spear phishing attacks that appear to have originated from IP addresses in the U.S. and Argentina.

Two retail organizations in particular were the target of 63 per cent of these 516 attacks. When the first round of attack e-mail was blocked, second and third rounds kept coming. In one case the attack spoofed an organization's senior IT security executive to target 70 employees by fraudulently requesting action with a "critical update" that was actually a malicious attachment. If a recipient had clicked on it, a backdoor Trojan would have been installed on the machine, giving the attacker access to it, Symantec says.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags targeted attacks; spam; Messagelabsantispammessagelabssymantecsecurityintelanti-malware

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ellen Messmer

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?