New cyber attacks more malicious than Love Bug: Symantec

More bots, spam attacks, other malicious e-mails noted

A decade after the Love Bug virus attacked millions of computers worldwide and put the Philippines in the IT world map in a negative way, computer security experts have noticed that today's computer attacks are more malicious than the original computer security threat.

In its April 2010 security report, Symantec said it has detected 36,208 unique strains of malware that were designed to carry out targeted attacks.

MessageLabs, which was acquired by Symantec later, was the first one to raise the alert on the Love Bug virus, which was designed to overwrite and destroy data. The virus came in the form of a message attachment when, once opened, sent itself to the addresses of the email recipient and spread on from there.

Ten years since Symantec Hosted Services, then MessageLabs, intercepted 13,000 copies of the virus in a single day on 4 May 2000, MessageLabs Intelligence said it now stops 1.5 million copies of malicious e-mails each day.

"Although mass mailing viruses like the Love Bug are rare today, cyber criminals' techniques have evolved to more malicious, highly targeted attacks and they are motivated less by achievement and credibility than by financial gain and identity theft," Symantec said in a statement. "On 4 May, 2000, 1 in 28 e-mails contained the Love Bug virus. By comparison, 1 in 287.2 e-mails contained a virus on 9 April 2010, the peak for April. In April 2010 overall, MessageLabs Intelligence intercepted 36,208 unique strains of malware."

"The Love Bug was operating in the wake of the Melissa virus, a similarly destructive worm from the previous year," said MessageLabs Intelligence senior analyst Paul Wood. "Back then, users were less savvy, regarding the dangers posed by suspicious e-mail attachments and e-mails from unknown senders. The general public was also less aware of issues such as spam and denial of service attacks."

Bot attacks

The April 2010 MessageLabs Intelligence Report also revealed that Rustock has surpassed Cutwail as the biggest botnet both in terms of the amount of spam it sends and the amount of active bots under its control.

The report noted that Rustock has reduced the output of individual bots by 65 per cent but increased the number of active bots by 300 per cent, thus, making up for the decreased output. Meanwhile, Cutwail has reduced in size to 600,000 bots from two million bots in May 2009 and is now responsible for only four per cent of all spam. "Rustock remains the largest spam-sending botnet responsible for 32.8 per cent of all spam," the report read.

"Affected by the closure of ISP Real Host in August 2009, Cutwail likely lost the ability to update some of its bots causing its numbers to diminish greatly without the ability to recover," said Wood. "As a result, Rustock has taken over significant volumes from spammers by undercutting the market with greater capacity and lower operational costs."

Spam

Worldwide, the spam rate this month was pegged at 89.9 per cent, a drop of 0.8 per cent from the previous month.

In the region, Malaysia and Singapore also saw a drop in the spam rate to 87.7 per cent, and 87.6 per cent respectively, the report added.

"Spam is more commonly sent from computers running Windows than from those running other operating systems," Wood said. "However, spam not identified as coming from botnets was seen in lower proportions coming from Windows machines than from known botnets."

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Veronica C. Silva

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