Zeus, Koobface and Zero-Day Exploits Dominate First Half of 2010

Trend Micro's report covering January to June 2010 identifies the most common cyber-crime incidents and trends behind spam and botnets.

Zero-day attacks on Internet Explorer, the Zeus Trojan and Koobface malware were some of the most significant cyber-crime threats during the first half of 2010, according to a report from Trend Micro released Oct. 4.

Trend Micro analyzed data from the Smart Protection Network to compile the report. The Smart Protection Network sees 45 billion queries every 24 hours, blocks 5 billion threats and processes 2.5 terabytes of data each day, thanks to users who enable it for real-time protection.

Spam remained the most popular delivery mechanism for attacks, whether it's malicious URLs or infected files. Spammers continue to rely on botnets as their primary distribution network because of the speed in how spam is delivered, the vast target size, and the relatively low costs to the hacker in infecting and taking over a computer.

In a controlled test, Trend Micro found that a single infected computer in a botnet generated over 2 million spam messages in a 24-hour period.

Spam now accounts for 97 percent of all e-mail in circulation, according to Trend Micro. Other security companies have similar estimates, as well.

Threats are "intertwined"-meaning most every threat comprises multiple components for attacking, infecting and compromising data, the report said.

Perhaps the most headline-grabbing attacks in the first six months of 2010 highlighted the Zeus Trojan, the DIY kit attackers use to steal financial information from compromised users. Criminals using Zeus have stolen millions of dollars from victims' bank accounts. Zeus is versatile, coming in as an attachment or a link in a spammed message. It can also be downloaded unwittingly when a user browses to a compromised Website.

Zeus variants don't always hit financial targets, Trend Micro said, as there were attacks on government agencies, AIM and Facebook in the first half of 2010.

The zero-day attacks made up a significant portion of attacks during the first half of 2010, Trend Micro researchers found. These attacks included spam with infected files containing hidden JavaScript code that took advantage of a zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer to send backdoor Trojans to affected systems, the report said. These Trojans stole information, which was sent to the hacker. In all, about 34 companies were affected by this "highly sophisticated and targeted attack," the report said.

Improperly patched software and out-of-date antivirus software leave users vulnerable to these "drive-by" threats, where all that is necessary to become infected by malware is to visit a compromised Website, said Trend Micro. Servers are also not immune, warned the report, as hackers find the rewards worth the effort.

Koobface is currently the most dangerous social networking threat to date, taking advantage of the popularity of URL shortening services, according to the report. Koobface criminals send IM spam to users with shortened URLs, which then redirect victims to malicious Websites.

Users are used to incomprehensible URLs, thanks to the popularity of sites like Twitter, and consider links from their social network to be safe. They also continue to rely on visual cues, like the site's appearance and logos, instead of the actual URL, to determine a site's authenticity, researchers said.

The information collected, including credit card information and PayPal log-in credentials, is sold to other criminals. Trend Micro's researchers identified the average price tag for hacked PayPal accounts as 30 percent of the current balance in the account. United States credit cards sold for 80 cents to a dollar, while European Union cards, such as Denmark, Greece, Norway and Netherlands, brought $3 apiece.

During the first six months of 2010, TrendLabs identified Europe, namely Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and France, as the largest source of spam e-mails. India and Brazil had the greatest number of bot-infected computers actively sending out spam, and the United States was the primary source for malicious URLs. Interestingly, most of the victims were based in Asia, primarily Japan, the researchers discovered.