Recently, Symantec convened a panel of researchers to review the 2009 threat landscape and to discuss what we can expect in 2010.
The group was unanimous in saying what we saw this year was ugly. Botnets prevailed and took over as a primary means of disseminating spam and spreading malware, while social engineering attacks became more sophisticated.
But the group was also in agreement in saying that what we experienced this year will pale in comparison to what 2010 will bring: “fast flux” botnets will dominate, rogue security software vendors will up their game, and fraud targeted at social networking applications will grow.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that with some preparation and the right security solutions in place, we can continue to outsmart the bad guys.
Here are the security trends that are likely to be noteworthy in 2010:
- Social engineering will be the primary attack vector – More and more, attackers are going directly after end users and attempting to trick them into downloading malware or divulging sensitive information under the auspice that they are doing something perfectly innocent. Social engineering’s popularity is at least in part spurred by the fact that it is the actual user being targeted, not necessarily vulnerabilities in a machine. Symantec estimates that the number of attempted attacks using social engineering techniques will increase in 2010.
- Traditional approaches to antivirus aren’t enough – With the rise of polymorphic threats and the explosion of unique malware variants in 2009, the industry is quickly realizing that traditional approaches to antivirus, both file signatures and heuristic/behavioral capabilities, aren’t enough to protect us. We have reached an inflection point where new malicious programs are being created at a faster rate than good programs. As such, we have also reached a point where it no longer makes sense to focus solely on analyzing malware. Instead, approaches to security that look to ways to include all software files, such as reputation-based security, will be key in 2010. (See “How Reputation-Based Security Transforms the War on Malware.”)
- Rogue security software vendors will escalate their efforts – In 2010, expect to see the propagators of rogue security software scams take their efforts to the next level, even by hijacking users’ computers, rendering them useless and holding them for ransom. A less drastic next step, however, would be software that isn’t explicitly malicious but is dubious at best. For example, Symantec has already observed some rogue antivirus vendors selling rebranded copies of free third-party antivirus software as their own offerings. (See “Don’t Be Bamboozled by Rogue Security Software.”)
- Social networking third-party applications will be the target of fraud – With the popularity of social networking sites poised for another year of unprecedented growth, expect to see fraud being leveraged against site users to grow. In the same vein, expect owners of these sites to create more proactive measures to address these threats. As this occurs, and as these sites more readily provide third-party developer access to their APIs, attackers will likely turn to vulnerabilities in third-party applications for users’ social networking accounts, just as we have seen attackers leverage browser plug-ins more as Web browsers themselves become more secure.
- Fast flux botnets will increase – Fast flux is a technique used by some botnets to hide phishing and malicious Web sites behind an ever-changing network of compromised hosts acting as proxies. Using a combination of peer-to-peer networking, distributed command and control, Web-based load balancing, and proxy redirection, it makes it difficult to trace the botnets’ original geo-location. As industry counter-measures continue to reduce the effectiveness of traditional botnets, expect to see more botnets using this technique to carry out attacks.
- Windows 7 will come into the cross-hairs of attackers – Microsoft has already released the first security patches for the new operating system. As long as humans are programming computer code, flaws will be introduced, no matter how thorough pre-release testing is, and the more complex the code, the more likely that undiscovered vulnerabilities exist. Microsoft’s new operating system is no exception, and as Windows 7 hits the pavement and gains traction in 2010, attackers will undoubtedly find ways to exploit its users.