HOME Technology Nov 2009
You have been warned!
Internet hostilities escalate

Ongoing warnings to update security software, stay away from infection prone sites and plug and patch operating system and applications, don’t seem to be getting through to some computer users.

It should be clear by now that cyberspace is an unsafe place to visit without firewall, antivirus and phishing protection; every day countless thousands of users get caught out and cybercriminals keep upping the ante.

Symantec, in its latest anti-cybercrime campaign, claims there are an average of 200 million computer attacks every month; the majority never seen before and delivered over the web.

In 2005 about 113,000 viruses, Trojans and worms were observed; two years later it was over 624,000 and by the close of 2008 Symantec was tracking over 1.6 million different malware, and now warns it could top 15 million by the end of 2010.

Symantec says acting on fake emails is likely to cost consumers more than $US140 billion this year; 90 percent of digital threats are an attempt to steal private information and an identity stolen is every three seconds.

Social networks are fertile ground for fraud, criminals posing as friends often send messages with links promising something funny, interesting or topical that simply lead to drive-by downloads.

Geoff Cossey from Chillisoft, which sells eSet security software, says the threat landscape has changed significantly with cybercriminals using ‘social engineering’, compromised websites and playing on the very fear they created in the first place.

Scareware is here

A pop-up screen will appear telling you it has detected a virus and if you click through it’ll clean that up for you. While they might look convincing the resulting fake antivirus software or scareware will plant itself deep in your system, disable your current antivirus protection and then try to extort $40-$100 from you to download the full version.

Symantec claims to have detected 250 rogue security programmes being sold by around 250,000 global websites, a threat that’s likely to grow over the next year.

Norton Internet Security 2010 and Norton AntiVirus 2010 use an intelligent new ‘reputation-based’ security approach, with millions of users feeding into a trust matrix to help predict and halt the spread of risky software. It’s designed to catch unauthorised or suspect activity ‘even if we’ve not seen their wanted poster," says Symantec.

Microsoft has now launched its free Microsoft Security Essentials for computers running Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. Used with a secure web browser such as Internet Explorer 8, the company insists it’ll provide total security. Rivals claim it’s only a thin line of defence with no anti-spam and identity safeguards.

Once of the bad guys that turned up the heat this year was the Conficker worm which spreading through websites and emails in an outbreak rivaling anything the industry has seen for years. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health struggled with the infection for 15 days before its 2000 PC network was in recovery.

About 90 percent of threats are targeted at Microsoft Windows, and while Apple and Linux face around 5 percent of attacks, as they become more popular they’ll also attract more attention from malware makers.

Cossey says signature based protection, heuristics and behaviour blocking are all part of a soup of ingredients that can help but a proactive rather than reactive approach is best.

While the price for a year’s subscription is now fairly standard for good security, it’s best to stick with proven providers.

And while legitimate free antivirus solutions are better than no protection, Cossey says sometimes small differences count and paid subscriptions certainly offer better security.
"If you are going to jump out of a plane, you’re not going to shop around for the cheapest parachute are you?"

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