The Explosion of Malware

virusIt seems the on-line world is getting more dangerous for end-users and ISPs. Numerous industry sources report a huge increase in malware over the last two years. AV-Test, which tests the effectiveness of anti-virus software says that their software detected 143 million cases of malware, up 73% from the year before. In 2012 they saw only 34 million. Over the last two years they found more malware than in the previous ten years combined. Another security software vendor, Kaspersky said that it saw a fourfold increase in mobile malware last year.

What’s behind this exponential increase in malware? Experts cite several reasons:

  • This is partially due to the way that antivirus software works. It generally is designed to look for specific pieces of software that has been identified as being malicious. But hackers have figured this out and they now make minor changes to the form of the software without changing its function to get it to slip past the antivirus software.
  • Some hackers are now encrypting their malware to make it harder for antivirus software to detect.
  • Hackers are now routinely launching waterholing attacks where they create a denial of service attack against a website for the purpose of infecting it with malware, which they then hopes spreads from there.
  • It’s getting easier for hackers to obtain the code of malware. It’s published all over the web or is widely for sale giving new hackers the ability to be up and running without having to develop new code.
  • There is a new kind of tracking cookie called a zombie cookie because it comes back after being deleted. The best known case of this is tracking being done by Turn which is putting this software on Verizon Wireless cell phones.
  • Malware is being delivered in new ways. For instance, it used to be mandatory for malware to somehow be downloaded, such as downloading an attachment from spam. But in the last few years there are new delivery methods like attaching malware to remnant ad space on web sites that download automatically when somebody opens a popular web page. Cisco just warned that they see social media being the newest big source of malware in 2015.
  • Malware isn’t just for computers any longer. Cisco warms that the biggest new target for malware this year is going to be cell phones and mobile devices. And they believe Apple is going to be a big target. Cisco and others have been warning for several years that the connected devices that are part of the early Internet of Things are also almost all vulnerable to hacking.
  • Due to dramatic cases where millions of credit card numbers and passwords have been stolen hackers now have reasons and to target specific people to do things like empty their bank accounts and don’t always attack the public at large.
  • Cyber-warfare has hordes of government hackers from numerous countries unleashing malware at each other and the rest of us are often collateral damage.

The scary thing about all of this is that the malware purveyors seem to be getting ahead of the malware police and there seem to be a lot of malware that isn’t being caught by antivirus programs. This has always been a cat and mouse game, but right now we are at one of those dangerous places where the bad guys are ahead.

Larger businesses have responded to the increase in malware by having malware attack plans. These are step-by-step plans of what to do during and after an attack on their systems. These plans includes a lot of common sense ideas like backing up data often, making sure all software is licensed and up to date, and even little things like making sure that there are hard copies of contact information for employees and customers should systems go offline.

But there really is no way to plan for this on a home computer and if you get infected with bad enough software you are going to probably be paying somebody to clean your machine. It’s hard to know what to do other than maintaining a virus checker and backing up data.

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