Cyber-Criminals Co-Opting Trusted Sites into Attack Infrastructure: Report

The 2010 Web Security Report from Blue Coat Systems found that while the use of spam and phishing has declined, attacking through trusted sites is up.

Cyber-criminals are launching more of their attacks from legitimate Websites and services, according to a report from Blue Coat Systems.

In the 2010 Blue Coat Annual Web Security Report, security researchers examined Web behavior, types of malware users most often saw and top 10 attack vectors in the past year. Researchers also examined some of the biggest security events of the year, including Stuxnet, WikiLeaks, Zeus Trojan, mobile security, malvertising, phishing and social network attacks.

While much of the report, released Feb. 23, focused on Internet threats facing individual users, researchers found that cyber-criminals are willing to risk attacking organizations with highly secured applications if they thought the result would be lucrative.

Cyber-criminals are hacking and compromising legitimate sites that have good security reputations to launch their attacks, the report said. Instead of using free domains or sites that are known to host questionable content, attackers are taking the time to co-opt trusted sites to host malware and other malicious content, the researchers found.

Attackers hacked Kaspersky Labs' software download page in October and redirected visitors looking for the Kaspersky security suite to a fake antivirus software.

This strategy was also clearly evident in cloud applications, such as online storage and sites that encouraged user content, according to the report. Historically, it was easy for security suites to block sites that were likely to be malicious, but online storage services were the second most likely site to be hosting malware in 2010, the report found. IT is likely to allow access to these pages because they can serve a legitimate business function, the researchers said.

The number of new online storage sites hosting malware increased 13 percent while open content sites hosting malware increased 29 percent. A number of Trojans were found on free online storage site Rapidshare in December.

With trusted sites increasingly being used as part of the criminals' attack infrastructure, organizations should rely less on the site's reputation ratings, Blue Coat researchers said. A security defense that relies on reputation would leave users "exposed" to attacks, the report said.

Instead of reputation ratings, which may have been calculated a day or a week ago, security products should use real-time ratings, Blue Coat said. Every Web request is analyzed in real-time and a ratings score is assigned to determine the safety of the site in that instance. This would protect users when the attack itself lasts only a few hours, researchers said.

More users switched to personal pages, blogs, chat and instant messaging to keep up with each other. While e-mail remained the fourth popular communication platform, Web-mail dropped to 17th, Blue Coat found. The increased preference for social networking coincided with the rise of social networking sites being used as an attack vector, according to Blue Coat researchers. Phishing attempts on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, and click-jacking attacks, were the most common attacks on those sites in 2010, the report found. Click-jacking refers to tricking users to clicking on malicious content unintentionally.

Many of the phishing attempts tried to steal user credentials to get into banking, financial, and other online accounts that use shared passwords, Blue Coat said.

The best malware protection systems employ dynamic defense techniques that can detect and analyze unknown content, processes and behavior, Blue Coat said.

Web behavior was less about personal fulfillment and more about business in 2010, the report found. There was a significant decline in people accessing content Blue Coat categorized as dating/personals or adult content, but a significant uptick in audio, video, news, and reference materials, according to the report.

The report analyzed Web requests from users that are detected by the Blue Coat Web Pulse service, which process nearly three billion requests in real time each week. The report produced a comprehensive overview of the way people use Internet and the new techniques cyber-criminals used to attack targets, Blue Coat said.