While spam declined dramatically in 2010, social networking threats, identity-theft scams and phishing campaigns increased in sophistication and complexity, according to Cisco's Annual Review.
Spam volumes decreased
dramatically even as users fell for increasingly sophisticated
social-engineering scams in 2010, according to Cisco's Annual Security Report,
released Jan. 20.
Last year will be known as
the "year the tide turned" for spam, Henry Stern, Cisco senior security
researcher, told eWEEK. Despite increases in several developed countries, such
as the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and France, global spam volume actually
dropped in 2010.
Spam volume in the United
States was almost unchanged, but the United Kingdom saw almost a 115 percent
increase, according to the report. In contrast, Brazil, China and Turkey, countries
with some of the highest spam volumes in 2009, saw significant declines. Turkey
dramatically slashed spam volume by almost 95 percent, and Brazilian ISPs
reduced their spam by nearly half by restricting access to Port 25, according
to the report.
"It was the first year ever
in the history of spam that global volumes declined," and there were a number
of factors that contributed to the drop, said Stern. The increasing success of
law enforcement in shutting down cyber-crime gangs, such as the joint effort
between the U.S. and U.K. authorities to arrest a criminal operation using the Zeus Trojan
, meant there were fewer
botnets operating, Stern said.
The closure of spam network Spamit
in October also reduced the
amount of fake pharmaceutical spam, said Stern. Security vendors are also
becoming more proactive and aggressive about auto-updating their products with
the latest spam filters so spam was being blocked more effectively, Stern said.
Users may not notice the global decline because the security products have been
so effective in keeping spam out of the inbox, he said.
However, there were still
plenty of areas of concern in 2010, Stern said. Cyber-criminals increasingly
turned to new types of malware that exploited people's trust, tricking users
into handing over login and password information. Users also clicked on
infected links in e-mail messages with hacked e-mail addresses that make them
look like they are safe because it's from a friend. Criminals are also hacking trusted sites
to trick users into downloading malware
, according to the report.
"Miscreants are continuing
to find new and creative ways to exploit network, system and even human
vulnerabilities to steal information or do damage," said John N. Stewart, vice
president and chief security officer at Cisco.
Criminals also spent more
time figuring out how to steal identities in 2010, according to the report.
Some tactics included hacking into e-mail accounts to send out "trusted"
messages, hijacking Facebook and Twitter accounts to send out malicious links
and convincing users to download applications on social networks like Facebook
to see something exciting or interesting. This tactic is likely to increase in
2011, the report concluded.
such as scareware
, click fraud and spyware
remained "cash cows" for cyber-criminals in 2010 and would continue to be so in
2011, according to the report. Cyber-criminals will continue to invest in phishing
scams as well as malware kits, like the Zeus Trojan, the researchers found.
In addition it appears that
in 2011, cyber-criminals will expand their money-laundering operations using
so-called "mules" to transport money from one country to another, said Stern.
While many money mules are part of the criminal enterprise, a growing number of
them are scammed by clicking on spam or responding to work-from-home job
advertisements, the report found. While money mules
often are asked to just
move funds from various bank accounts, there are a growing number of
re-shipping scams, where criminals used stolen credit card numbers to legally
purchase merchandise, which they resold to others, said the researchers.
In what may be good news for
Microsoft, if not for anyone else, cyber-criminals may be turning to other
platforms to exploit and make money because the improved security in Windows 7
makes it "tougher" to "infiltrate" networks and applications and files,
according to the report. "Having reached the Windows vulnerability -tipping
point,' they have moved on," to other operating systems, services and mobile
devices, the security team wrote in the report. Scams in 2010 targeted select
groups of mobile users, such as customers of a specific bank or specific
smartphone applications, the report found.
With the increasing trend of
enterprises using mobile devices, there are "even more opportunities for
intrusions and theft," Cisco wrote.