Australia cops half of global targeted attacks: report

Researchers claim Aussie cyber-gangs are responsible

Australia is one of the world's most targeted nations for cyber-crime, according to a security report.

The MessageLabs' local research, detailed between January 2008 and February this year, claimed Australia houses several highly active cybercrime gangs that use “intimate knowledge of Australian business and culture” to craft convincing phishing attacks, and send “significant volumes of spam [and] malware”.

The company claimed cyber-crime gangs are “an obvious conclusion” as its research indicates that about a quarter of malware received by Australian inboxes is sent within the country. It reported the same figure for New Zealand.

“Australia is the seventh biggest source of malware in the world, while New Zealand ranks only 67th. The obvious conclusion is that Australia is home to a number of major cyber-crime gangs,” the report stated, adding that attacks crafted locally, like those pointing to fake banking sites, have a better chance of conning users.

Some security experts said the claim is dubious because malware can be sent by overseas attackers using a compromised Australian computer.

Australian Federal Police officer, Nigel Phair, speaking as an analyst and author, said he was unaware of cyber-crime gangs operating in Australia.

A spokesman at a peak local security body said it is likely the attacks originate through infected machines.

“I haven't heard of [Australian cyber-crime gangs],” he said. “The attacker could still come from Russia through a compromised computer.”

Compromised botnet computers within Australia account for about 80 percent of local spam levels, according to the research. It claimed most are under the control of the Mega-D and Cutwail botnets.

On a bad day, Australia can be hit with half of the world's targeted cyber attacks, according to MessageLabs, while the average received is about 3 percent.

MessageLabs claimed Australia's status as a “technologically advanced nation” makes it an attractive target for botnet distributors.

Australia is the eighth largest sender of targeted Trojans, according to the report. It claimed one in every 250 e-mails received in Australia and New Zealand contains malware, 0.1 percent more than the global average.

Financial pinch sees cyber-criminals downsize

Tightening competition will trigger a series of virus, worm, and botnet “wars” this year between cyber-criminal gangs, according to research from security vendor Trend Micro. The vendor predicts the gangs will downsize and competition for the latest exploits will heat-up between Eastern Europe and China, but notes the underground economy will flourish due to improvements in info-stealing malware.

The company also predicts a rise in ransomware attacks — where attackers hold a system or data ransom using malware — between April and June this year.

“Companies with tightened budgets are especially vulnerable to criminals who request massive pay-offs. Small to medium-sized companies are large enough to have money worth extorting, but small enough that they cannot cope with threats of an IT disaster or large amounts of downtime,” the report states.

Trend Micro also predicted that Mac and Linux computers will become increasingly vulnerable to attacks as popularity rises.

MessgaeLabs did not respond to questions by the time of publication.

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Darren Pauli

Computerworld
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