Sophos Security Report 2007 reveals United States is worst for malware hosting and spam-relaying

January 22, 2007 Sophos Press Release

Sophos, a world leader in IT security, has published its Security Threat Report 2007, examining the threat landscape over the previous twelve months, and predicting malware and spam developments during 2007.

The report - which can be downloaded here - reveals that the US hosts more than one third of the websites containing malicious code identified during 2006, as well as relaying more spam than any other nation.

The Sophos Security Threat Report 2007 examines in detail the top ten malware threats of the last year, and also confirms that malware authors are continuing to turn their backs on large-scale attacks in favor of more focused strikes against computer users.

Microsoft Windows continues to be the primary target for hackers, with internet criminals increasingly manufacturing downloading Trojan horses rather than mass-mailing worms to do their dirty work for them.

Countries hosting websites containing malware

The top ten countries hosting web-based malware during 2006, according to the experts at SophosLabs™, were:

Position Country Percentage
1 United States
2 China
3 Russian Federation
4 Netherlands
5 Ukraine
6 France
7 Taiwan
8 Germany
9 Hong Kong
10 Korea
Others 10.5%

"The US remains a hot spot for online criminal activity, and despite authorities' continued efforts to clamp down on cybercrime, too many US-hosted websites still have lax security measures in place," said Carole Theriault, senior security consultant for Sophos. "Given the effectiveness of web-based attacks, web hosting companies in the US and elsewhere need to step up their policing of published content, and ensure that malicious code is quickly removed, before innocent users get hit."

Dirty dozen spam-relaying countries

In addition to hosting the largest number of malicious websites, the US continues to top the list of worst spam-relaying nations. While the US has made good progress in its efforts to reduce spam-relaying statistics, there was still more spam sent from US computers in 2006 than any other single nation.

The top twelve spam-relaying countries during 2006 were:

Position Country Percentage
1 United States
2 China (incl Hong Kong)
3 South Korea
4 France
5 Spain
6 Poland
7 Brazil
8 Italy
9 Germany
10 United Kingdom
=11 Russia
=11 Taiwan
Others 24.4%

Sophos experts note that up to 90% of all spam is now relayed from zombie computers, hijacked by Trojan horses, worms and viruses under the control of hackers. This means that they do not need to be based in the same country as the computers being used to send the spam.

Email threats decline while malicious web content grows

Sophos found that the most prolific email threats during 2006 were the Mytob, Netsky, Sober and Zafi families of worms, which together accounted for more than 75% of all infected email. However, Sophos predicts that 2007 is likely to see a significant shift away from the use of email security threats, with cybercriminals instead looking to exploit the continued global growth in web use, as well as user-defined web content.

Email will continue to be an important vector for malware authors, though the increasing adoption of email gateway security is making hackers turn to other routes for infection. The number of websites being infected with malware is on the rise SophosLabs is currently uncovering an average of 5,000 new URLs hosting malicious code each day.

"The internet now represents the easiest way for cybercriminals to gain entry to corporate networks, as more users are accessing unregulated sites, downloading applications and streaming audio/video, potentially jeopardising security in the process," continued Theriault. "A great many businesses aren't geared up to gain insight into users' online behaviour, let alone control it, and it's vital that they now begin to examine ways to incorporate web security into their overall IT security strategy."

Trojans taking over from spyware

During 2006 Sophos saw a decrease in the use of traditional spyware, in favour of multiple Trojan downloaders. The hacker sends a 'special offer' (or similar) email in an attempt to dupe recipients into visiting a website containing a malicious downloader. The executable file will attempt to download additional Trojans, a process that may be repeated multiple times to try and disable all security defences, before it downloads a spyware component - which will then have a better chance of success.

Statistics reveal that in January 2006 spyware accounted for 50.43% of all infected email, while 40.32% were emails linking to websites containing Trojan downloaders. By December 2006 the figures had been reversed, with the latter now accounting for 51.24%, and spyware-infected emails reduced to 41.87%. This trends looks set to continue into 2007 and beyond.

Malware types differ according to location

Sophos notes that 30% of all malware is now written in China, most of it taking the form of Trojans used for gaining a backdoor into users' computers. Surprisingly, 17% of malware written in China is designed for the specific purpose of stealing passwords from online gamers. In contrast, malware authors based in Brazil are responsible for 14.2% of all malware, the majority of which is designed to steal information from online bankers.

"It's interesting to see how malware varies depending on location, often exploiting current country-specific online trends. Identifying the source of the malware helps security experts and authorities strengthen criminal profiles and bring the perpetrators to justice," added Theriault.

Sophos detected 41,536 new pieces of malware in 2006, bringing the total protected against to 207,684. Of these threats, Trojans now outnumber Windows viruses and worms by 4:1. The proportion of infected emails was down from 1 in 44 during 2005 to just 1 in 337 during 2006.

The full report, which also covers the top ten malware threats of 2006, predictions for 2007, and emerging threats such as ransomware and scareware, can be downloaded from the Sophos website: