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Cisco: Targeted Internet attacks will increase in 2009

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December 19, 2008

A new Internet security survey performed by Cisco warns that sophisticated, targeted Internet attacks will increase in 2009. Released Dec. 17, "The Cisco Annual Security Report" provides comprehensive coverage of the combined security intelligence of the entire Cisco organization, including threat and trends information collected between January and October of this year.

The Cisco report suggests that, overall and every year, Internet attacks evolve as cyber criminals from all over the world discover new ways and new system vulnerabilities to exploit users, networks and the whole Internet itself.

Cisco fellow and chief security researcher Patrick Peterson says "2008's trends underscore how important it is to look at all the many basic elements of security policies and technologies."

The networking giant also released figures that may be even more worrying for IT managers. It found that between 2007 and 2008, the overall number of disclosed vulnerabilities grew by 11.5 percent, and vulnerabilities in virtualization products almost tripled to 103 from 35 when compared to last year.

Cisco also reports a more than 89.4 percent growth rate in threats originating from legitimate domains, nearly double the 2007 rate of growth. The numbers are worrisome, to say the least.

In the last few weeks alone, consumers have been inundated by junk emails, which are becoming more targeted and even potentially more dangerous.

Peterson says "Internet users have noticed that many of these electronic nuisances seem more personalized, flowing into email clients bearing their actual email addresses or bearing some type of familiar, personal information. Their tailor-made messages - a method called spear-phishing - are coming in at an alarming rate, attacking personal and business accounts alike, and shows almost no sign of easing up."

All-in-all, email spam accounts for nearly 200 billion messages daily - roughly 90 percent of email sent worldwide, according to the Cisco report. Most of it originates in the U.S., which contributes 17.2 percent, followed by Turkey with 9.2 percent, Russia with 8 percent, Canada with 4.7 percent, Brazil with 4.1 percent, India with 3.5 percent, Poland with 3.4 percent and finally South Korea with 3.3 percent.

With security suites and antivirus software, most consumers are armed with some kind of spam protection. But well-targeted messages often go under the radar totally undetected.

According to Cisco, while spear-phishing currently represents only about one percent of all phishing e-mail spam campaigns, it is expected to become more prevalent, because the higher jackpots criminals score when they succeed in obtaining personal data from specially targeted victims is worth the time and resources it takes to make messages seem more credible.

Additionally, some of the major trends for IT companies to watch for in 2009 include insider threats, data loss and remote working issues.

Compounded by major cuts during this global financial meltdown, insider threats include negligent or disgruntled employees who threaten corporate security, making better collaboration between IT, HR and other lines of business crucial to propagate threats and in larger quantity.

Overall, while network technology advances have made remote working increase productivity, Internet-based tools, mobile devices, virtualization, cloud computing, SaaS (Software as a Service) and similar technologies will only increase Internet attacks for security personnel in 2009.

Data loss, whether through carelessness, hacker breaches or from insiders, is a growing problem that can lead to catatrosphic financial losses, causing companies to turn to technology, education and clear, well-enforced data security policies to make corporate compliance easier and reduce incidents.

The Cisco report concludes by stating "companies and organizations all over the world can seriously reduce their risk of data loss by fine-tuning access controls and patching known vulnerabilities to eliminate the ability for cyber criminals to further exploit these security flaws in network infrastructures."

It added "it is important to upgrade end-user applications, user interfaces, endpoint systems and networking equipment to help ensure that corporate systems run normally and to minimize risk as much as possible."

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Source: Cisco.

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