Phishing, worms spike this year, say Microsoft and McAfee

Top attacks on computers come from phishing and worms, separate reports from Microsoft and McAfee show.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read

Scammers are targeting social networks with phishing scams and relying more heavily on worms and Trojans to attack computers, according to security trend reports to be released Monday by Microsoft and McAfee.

Phishing attacks saw a big spike in May and June, primarily because of campaigns targeting social-networking sites, according to Microsoft's report covering the first half of 2009. Gaming sites, portals, and Web sites of banks and retailers were also popular targets for phishing attacks, the report said.

Trojans top the list of threats to computer security, according to Microsoft's latest Security Intelligence Report. Microsoft

Trojans, including rogue security software, remained the most prevalent category of threats, while Microsoft statistics show that worms rose from fifth place in the second half of last year to become the second most prevalent category, led by Conficker and followed by Taterf, which targets multiplayer online role-playing games.

During the first half of the year, Microsoft detected and cleaned rogue security software--which displays false antivirus warnings to trick people into paying for software they don't need--from 13.4 million computers. That was down from 16.8 million computers in the second half of last year.

Most of the drive-by download pages are hosted on legitimate Web sites that have been compromised by attackers through intrusion or malicious code posted to a poorly secured Web form, such as a blog comment field. The Trojan Downloaders & Droppers category was the type of malware most often delivered in drive-by attacks, according to Microsoft.

The number of total unique vulnerability disclosures across the industry was down sharply from a year ago. While browser vulnerabilities increased slightly, application vulnerabilities dropped and operating system holes were flat, Microsoft said.

Microsoft software accounted for 6 of the top 10 browser-based holes attacked on Windows XP computers, compared with only one on Vista computers. Of the top 10 browser-based holes exploited on computers running Vista, 2 targeted Adobe Reader and the most significant one targeted Adobe Flash Player. In the third spot was an exploit aimed at Internet Explorer.

Infection rates for Windows Vista were significantly lower than Windows XP, while the rate for Windows Server 2008 was less than Server 2003.

Microsoft released 27 security bulletins in the first half of the year, addressing 85 individual vulnerabilities. Of those, 11 were exploited within the first 30 days after the release of the security bulletin.

As far as computer security consciousness, the U.S. is in the middle, according to George Stathakopoulos, general manager of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group. Japan is at or near the top of the list and Germany is high up too, he said.

"We are average," he added. "We are not one of the cleanest countries, we are dead on in the middle."

McAfee's report showed the U.S. as the top country when it comes to the number of compromised computers that are zombies used in botnets to do things like send spam, followed by China and Brazil. The U.S. also is the top distributor of spam and has the most servers hosting malware, McAfee said.

Spam comprises 92 percent of all e-mail. It jumped 24 percent from a year ago, McAfee said.