Sophos, a world leader in IT security and control, has announced
the results of its research into worldwide cybercrime activity
during the first three months of 2007. The findings reveal that the
overall number of new pieces of malware has grown dramatically,
with the majority of malicious code writers selecting the web as
its playground of choice.
In the first quarter of 2007, Sophos identified 23,864 new
threats - more than double the number found in the same period last
year when the company identified 9,450. At the same time, the
percentage of infected email has dropped from 1.3 percent, or one
in 77 emails in the first three months of 2006, to one in 256, or
just 0.4 percent in 2007.
Infected websites pose greatest threat
From January to the end of March, Sophos identified an average
of 5,000 new infected webpages every day, indicating that this
route to infection is becoming more popular with cybercriminals.
With computer users becoming increasingly aware of how to protect
against email-aware viruses and malware, hackers have turned to the
web as their preferred vector of attack.
The top ten malware families hosted on websites in Q1 2007 were
Not all of the infected websites were created by the hackers
themselves. Sophos has found that the majority, 70 percent, were
bonafide websites that were vulnerable to attack because they were
unpatched, poorly coded or had not been maintained by their owners.
A further 12.8 percent were hosting malicious script while Windows
malware was responsible for infecting 10.7 percent. Adware was
found on 4.8 percent of these pages and porn diallers on 1.1
The most high profile website infection of the quarter happened
in February when hackers placed
malicious script, identified as Mal/Packer, on the official
Miami Dolphins website. The American football team was due to host
the Super Bowl the weekend after this happened, so its site was an
extremely popular destination for web surfers at the time. Sophos
points out that attacks like these outline the fact that any site,
regardless of subject matter, can fall victim and infect innocent
visitors if it is not properly protected. Sophos recommends that
businesses deploy web security solutions that not only filter based
on website categorisation, but that properly inspect the code of
every website before granting access.
In another incident in March this year, cybercriminals used spam
campaigns to lure users to
hacked sites in an attempt to sell goods. Legitimate websites
with PHP vulnerabilities were hacked, redirecting visitors to a
pharmaceutical store selling drugs. By using legitimate URLs in
their spam messages, they were able to avoid less sophisticated
spam filters, and when the victim clicked on the link they went to
a genuine website only to then be automatically redirected to the
"What's most worrying is that so many websites are falling
victim because the owners are failing to properly maintain them and
keep up to date with their patches," explained Carole Theriault, senior
security consultant at Sophos. "The average internet user assumes
sites like the Miami Dolphins homepage are safe to access, but by
targeting a whole range of internet pages, hackers are successfully
infecting a larger number of unwary surfers. Any ill-maintained
website can fall victim."
Web-based malware hosting countries
The top ten countries hosting web-based malware in Q1 2007 were
The first quarter of 2007 has seen the UK, now responsible for
hosting three percent of infected websites, enter this chart for
the first time at number six. There has also been a dramatic
increase in the number of hacked sites hosted by China, which is
now responsible for hosting over a third of all web-based malware,
taking top position from the United States that led the chart at
the end of 2006.
"China has traditionally had a bad reputation when it comes to
cybercrime, consistently coming in the top two spam relaying
countries month after month, so its position in this chart should
come as no real surprise," explained Theriault. "What's more, China
is leading the new internet revolution with a staggering number of
individuals claiming website addictions. Given these rich pickings,
it's hardly a shock that hackers are focusing their efforts
Five percent of world's spam sent via a single Polish ISP
Earlier this month, Sophos revealed
that there was a surprise newcomer to the dirty dozen spam relaying
countries. Having never made an appearance in this chart
previously, Poland made a dramatic entry at number three and was
responsible for relaying 7.4 percent of all the world's spam.
Sophos's research shows that one single ISP is largely responsible
for Poland's position as one of the world's principal spammers.
From January to March 2007, one in 20 of all spam messages
worldwide was sent via Polish Telecom.
"The fact that one average-sized Polish ISP is single-handedly
responsible for relaying five percent of the world's spam is
astonishing - which is why we are currently in talks with them on
how they can reduce this glut of unwanted mail," continued
Theriault. "Spam is a difficult problem to solve as every
government legislates differently and the responsibility of the
ISPs varies from place to place. There are also market demands that
often pressure ISPs to lower prices rather than invest into
processes to clean up their output."
In total, the amount of spam relayed in Q1 2007 has increased by
4.2 percent over the same period last year.
Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at www.sophos.com.