CYBERSPACE—Symantec's annual Internet Security Threat Report was released this month, and among the findings that surprised the report's authors was the fact that porn sites ranked in last place in the Most Dangerous Web Site Categories, 2011.
"It is interesting to note that websites hosting adult/pornographic content are not in the top five, but ranked tenth," they wrote, adding, "Moreover, religious and ideological sites were found to have triple the average number of threats per infected site than adult/pornographic sites. We hypothesize that this is because pornographic website owners already make money from the internet and, as a result, have a vested interest in keeping their sites malware-free—it’s not good for repeat business."
The big picture was more problematic, however. "Symantec blocked more than 5.5 billion malicious attacks in 2011, an increase of more than 81 percent from the previous year," the company reported. "This increase was in large part a result of a surge in polymorphic malware attacks, particularly from those found in web attack kits and socially engineered attacks using email-borne malware.
"In addition to the 81 percent surge in attacks, the number of unique malware variants also increased by 41 percent and the number of web attacks blocked per day also increased dramatically, by 36 percent," it continued. "Greater numbers of more widespread attacks employed advanced techniques, such as server-side polymorphism to colossal effect. This technique enables attackers to generate an almost unique version of their malware for each potential victim."
There was some good news. "At the same time," Symentec added, "spam levels fell considerably and the report shows a decrease in total new vulnerabilities discovered (-20 percent). These statistics compared to the continued growth in malware paint an interesting picture. Attacks are rising, but the number of new vulnerabilities is decreasing."
The report also noted that cyber espionage and other targeted attacks remain a big challenge for companies, and added that small to mid-range companies rather than large corporations are increasingly being targeted.
"50 percent of attacks focused on companies with less than 2500 employees, and 18 percent of attacks were focused on organizations with less than 250 employees," the report stated. "It’s possible that smaller companies are now being targeted as a stepping stone to a larger organization because they may be in the partner ecosystem and less well-defended."
Lower level people also are being targeted now, the report stated, adding, "In terms of people who are being targeted, it’s no longer only the CEOs and senior level staff. 58 percent of the attacks are going to people in other job functions such as Sales, HR, Executives Assistants, and Media/Public Relations. This could represent a trend in attackers focusing their attention on lower hanging fruit. If they cannot get to the CEOs and senior staff, they can get to other links inside the organizations."
The report also notes that while political and cyber espionage gained a lot of headlines in 2022, the major goal of most targeted attacks remains greed.
"Although not the most frequent cause of data breaches, hacking attacks had potentially the greatest impact and exposed more than 187.2 million identities, the greatest number for any type of breach in 2011, analysis from the Norton Cybercrime Index revealed," the report stated. "Despite the media interest around these breaches, old-fashioned theft was the most frequent cause of data breaches in 2011."
The report also looks at threats to mobile networks and devices, as well as the increasing use of cloud-based networks, and contains several pages of suggested best practice guidelines for companies and consumers to consider implementing.
The Symantec Internet Security Threat Report for 2011 can be read here.