Monday, December 15, 2008

Internet security suite

I read from e-zone this week an article on the latest trend in the Internet security scene. It is a suite of topics and many of them are well known. But the article provides the current situation which is worthy of refreshing our awareness of the problem.

Statistics collected by Kaspersky Lab show that, in 2008, the highest computer intrusion events were caused by Trojan-ware, 92.56%, followed by viruses, 3.96% and other malicious software, 3.48%. The Trojan Horse software mainly came from network games and phish website. Other malicious software include advertising software, risk software, hoax, pornographic software and fraud tools. Among them, fraud tools have the highest growth. Some of them are even disguised as security software.

According to the anti-virus software company, Symantec, the common traps leading to Internet security breaches in 2009 could likely be the following.

Trap 1: Mutated hostile software. Newly developed hostile software are able to mutate by themselves. They will change their form and then be distributed to other users.

Trap 2: Social network threats. The latest trend is phishing software spreading on the popular social network sites. Many third party software linked to social network are phishing for the account information of users.

Trap 3: False financial institutions website. Taking the opportunity of the global financial crisis, many phishing websites and email are targeting such concern of users. They would disguise as financial institutions and phish for financial account information.

Trap 4: Junk mail. Owing to the economy downturn, many companies are more willing to put in resources for the development of junk mail for the purpose of advertising as well as increasing click-counts.

E-zone conducted a survey on the level of worry of Internet users regarding the problem of Internet security. The survey results show that the biggest worry is on Trojan. 40% of all users are worried that they could be attacked. The overall results are:
Trojan -- 40%
Keylogger -- 23%
Virus -- 15%
Adware -- 12%
Spyware -- 10%

The reason for the relatively low worry level of other attacks is that anti-virus software are quite common and useful nowadays. Many users feel that a computer well protected by such software could effectively eliminate the risk of viruses, adware and spyware to a large extent. However, more covert attacks such as Trojan Horse and Keylogger are not easy to detect and thus cause more worry.

A security expert from the Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team offers some additional tips on Internet security:

1. Windows automatic update. Microsoft Windows is the most commonly used operating system. It is also the most attacked system and vulnerabilities are found frequently. Luckily Microsoft also has a good defense system and any known vulnerability is dealt with quickly. Program patches are issued frequently to update the Windows system. One should set the Windows operating system to automatic update for effective protection. Many other software do not issue program patches at all. This does not mean they are safe. It is just that the companies do not fix the software vulnerability.

2. Browser automatic update. Internet browser is one of the major gateways to the Internet. Many malicious software exploit vulnerability of browsers for attack. An up-to-date browser will provide better security. At present, Firefox 3.0 offers automatic update for its browser.

3. False website. A current trend of computer fraud is from false websites of financial institutions. Extra attention must be paid when visiting such websites, including your favourite banks. It is advisable to access these websites only from your own bookmarks.

4. Email links. Many phishing websites and malicious software hide their links in email. It is important to check whether the email sent to you is from a reliable source, and whether the addresses of the links are suspicious.

5. Browse for security news. The expert recommends browsing HKCERT for update news on Internet security. This is probably an advertisement for HKCERT, but it does provide useful information. There are many other such information centres around the world.

6. ActiveX. The expert suggests de-activating ActiveX in your browser which may open a loophole for attack. But many useful software use ActiveX. It is a personal judgment whether you like to take the risk. I only de-activate ActiveX temporarily whenever I found something suspicious.

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