Cisco sees social networking and banking scams on the rise

Malware like Koobface and Zeus is replacing old-school phishing attacks, according to Cisco's annual security report

What do phishing, instant messaging malware, DDoS attacks, and 419 scams have in common? According to Cisco Systems, they're all has-been cybercrimes that were supplanted by slicker, more menacing forms of cybercrime over the past year.

In its 2009 Annual Security Report, due to be released Tuesday, Cisco says that the smart cybercriminals are moving on.

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"Social media and the data-theft Trojans are the things that are really in their ascent," said Patrick Peterson, a Cisco researcher. "You can see them replacing a lot of the old-school things."

Peterson is talking about attacks such as the Koobface worm, which spreads via Facebook and Twitter. Koobface asks victims to look at a fake YouTube video, which ultimately leads to a malicious download. Cisco estimates that Koobface has now infected more than 3 million computers, and security vendors such as Symantec expect social networking attacks to be a major problem in 2010.

Another sneaky attack: the Zeus password-stealing Trojan. According to Cisco, Zeus variants infected almost 4 million computers in 2009. Eastern European gangs use Zeus to hack into bank accounts. They then use their networks of money mules to wire stolen funds out of the U.S. They have been linked to about $100 million in bank losses, some of which have been recovered, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said last month.

With that kind of success, older types of attacks such as instant messaging worms and phishing are now on the decline, Peterson said.

Traditional phishing is becoming harder as consumers become wary of suspicious banking sites and the banks themselves are now adept at getting these sites taken off the Internet.

Those factors make password stealing Trojans like Zeus even more popular, Peterson said. "They're focusing on other ways to basically accomplish the same thing."

One scourge that's not slowing down, however, is spam. Cisco expects spam volume to rise between 30 and 40 percent next year, even though countries such as the U.S. have knocked some spammers offline. In fact, U.S. spam dropped 20 percent in 2009, and the U.S. lost its traditional position as the world's number-one source of spam. More spam now comes from Brazil, Cisco says.

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