5 Cyberthreats to Watch For in 2011
Keywords like phishing, hacking and malware have become part of the common cybersecurity discourse, familiar to nearly everyone with a computer and an Internet connection. But as we embark on a new year, and our online connectivity increases, there's a new batch of terms even the most casual computer user should be aware of.
SecurityNewsDaily looked back at the dangers that shocked and scared us in 2010, and spoke with cybersecurity experts to get a grip on what threats will emerge in 2011.
In the second half of 2010, no single topic dominated cybersecurity news more than WikiLeaks . From the initial document leak to the subsequent denial-of-service attacks against PayPal, Amazon, MasterCard and Visa, even the least tech-savvy person seemed to have an opinion about WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
In a report titled Distributed Denial of Service Attacks Against Independent Media and Human Rights Sites, researchers at Harvard University found that several high-profile organizations fell victim to DDoS attacks in 2010.
Those attacked included Twitter, blogging platform WordPress, and the websites of the Australian Parliament, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.
The latter two were targeted by users of the online forum 4Chan for their connection to the shut down of the file-sharing service The Pirate Bay . In December, PayPal and MasterCard were targeted for DDoS attacks also orchestrated on 4Chan because they cut off customers from sending money to WikiLeaks.
Security breaches like these have been labeled hacktivism -- carried out not for financial gain, but because the hackers disagree with the objectives or practices of the targeted sites.
Hacktivism attacks are the future of cyber protests, PandaLabs researcher Sean-Paul Correll said.
Gadgets and Smartphones
Smartphones and tablet computers give their owners the freedom to stay connected wherever they go. It's a feature that cybercriminals couldn't be happier about.
Mobile devices may offer unsuspected vectors for malicious code, said Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence for the cybersecurity company SecureWorks.
Perhaps the most serious threat is to online banking transactions done via smartphone, especially on iPhone and its iOS operating system.
Patricia Titus, vice president and chief information security officer at Unisys, an information technology firm, summed up the situation.
Where the money is, that's where the criminals are going, Titus told SecurityNewsDaily.
Unfortunately, the adage of safety in numbers doesn't ring true in the case of cybersecurity.
The massive popularity of the iPhone and other iOS devices running like the iPad mean the iPhone and the many services hosted on these devices certainly become a more valuable and sought-after target, said Kurt Baumgartner, senior malware researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
Even Internet-connected gaming systems such as the Xbox aren't immune to corruption, Jackson told SecurityNewsDaily. Any device, especially those with USB-storage capabilities, can be employed by criminals to access information or infect systems with corrupted software.
It's up there, floating above you. It's adding a huge level of convenience to everyday computing, with remote servers handling processing and data storage duties traditionally conducted by personal computers.
But the forecast could turn gloomy.
A piece of malware was recently detected in the cloud-based file-sharing service Rapidshare (www.rapidshare.com). The malware, called Trojan-Dropper.Win32.Drooptroop.jpa. worried Kaspersky Lab researcher Vicente Diaz because it didn't appear in the body of the Rapidshare link -- and therefore was able to evade traditional security filters.
As more and more companies move their programming duties to these vast remote servers, analysts believe cybercriminals will adapt to the new landscape and develop methods of compromising data in the cloud.
It's not entirely new, but social engineering attacks scams that use psychological manipulation to persuade people to divulge sensitive information or to purchase fake antivirus software -- will continue to be a threat in 2011. Again, it's a case of danger in numbers.
Those numbers hover somewhere around 500 million, which happens to be how many people use Facebook. Social engineering attacks thrive on Facebook and Twitter because of the enormous pool of potential victims, many of whom are maintaining a constant Facebook connection on their smartphones.
The classic Nigerian fraud scam is an example of a social engineering attack the e-mails promised a large sum of money would be sent to people who wired the scammers a small advance fee, usually through Western Union.
Variations on the Nigerian scam continue to exist and work, which seems ridiculous to talk about, but they are ongoing, said Kaspersky Lab's Baumgartner. Social networking delivery and social networking related threats, like those abusing Twitter trends, Google's hot topics and using Facebook and MySpace to deliver links and malware, will continue.
Looking forward to 2011, Baumgartner added that social engineering attacks have become more convincing, more anonymous, more international and more professionally done.
A contributing factor to the dangerous efficiency of social engineering attacks is the URL shortener, a Web based service such as bit.ly and tinyurl.com that condenses long website addresses to better fit the character limits in Twitter and Facebook messages. An attacker can use the shortened address to hide malware.
In late December, a computer science student named Ben Schmidt took the URL-shortener danger a step further, when, as a proof-of-concept experiment, he designed what he called the Evil URL Shortener -- It not only condensed the Web address, but simultaneously launched a DDoS attack against the website of the user's choice.
A malicious shortener could essentially take you anywhere it pleased, and the user would be none the wiser, Schmidt said.
First detected in June, the Stuxnet computer worm became a hot topic in 2010 and will continue to be one in 2011 because it upped the ante of what malware can do on a global level.
Stuxnet targets computers running Siemens software used in industrial control systems, and was tailor-made to attack Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant .
The fact that this malware was presumably created and sent by a nation-state, as opposed to an individual or a criminal organization, heralded the beginning of a dangerous new era of global cyberwarfare.
Similarly, January's Aurora attack launched by China against Google and 34 other high-profile companies, was of such a sophisticated nature that it's totally changing the threat model, said Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for McAfee.
As protesters flex their digital muscles, companies seek to increase their productivity by looking to the cloud, and Facebook continues its reign of social supremacy, 2011 could be a banner year for cybersecurity.
Who will be holding the pennant is anyone's guess.
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