If malware were biological, the world would be in the grip of the worst pandemic in history. In 2009, more than 25 million different unique malware programs were identified, more than all the malware programs ever created in all previous years (see the annual report from Panda Labs). That's a pretty incredible statistic. Malicious programs now outnumber legitimate ones by many orders of magnitude.
The world's largest cloud computing user? Not Microsoft, not Google, not Amazon.com. The ringleaders of the Conficker botnet, with more than 4.6 million infected computers under their control, win by a mile. Some antimalware vendors report that 48 percent of the computers they scan are infected (see page 10 of the APWG Phishing Activity Trends Report) with some sort of malware. Trojan horse programs make up 66 percent of all threats (see page 4 of the annual report from Panda Labs).
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No one need wonder what malware is trying to do: It's trying to steal money, whether it's through data theft, bank transfers, stolen passwords, or swiped identities. Each day, tens of millions of dollars are stolen from innocent Internet victims. And yet many computer defenders can't tell you what the biggest threat is to their environment. If you don't know the biggest threats, how can you defend against them properly?
Today's malware differs dramatically from the threats we faced just 10 years ago, when most malicious programs were written by young men looking to earn cyber bragging rights. Most malware made the user aware of its existence through a displayed message, music (as in the Yankee Doodle Dandy virus family), or some other sort of harmless mischief. Those were the days.
Thoroughly modern malware
Trojans lead the pack
Trojans typically camouflage themselves as downloadable antivirus scanners, "needed" patches, malformed PDF files, or add-on video codecs required to display an exciting video. Most of the fake programs have the clean look and feel of a real app. Even career antimalware defenders find it hard to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake.