2009 security predictions: Deja vu all over again

Concerns largely deal with issues that security managers are already familiar with and there are few really nasty new threats predicted around the corner

The security industry is fueled largely by FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt.) So it's not unusual for most forecasts in the industry to be full of grim prognostications of imminent chaos and calamities.

By that measure, the predictions contained in several recent security forecasts for 2009 will probably be somewhat of a relief for security managers.

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Most of the security vendors' forecasts predict dramatic spikes in volumes of spam, phishing, botnet activity, and malware targeted at companies. The reports also highlight sharp increases in attacks directed against Web and mobile applications. But the concerns largely deal with issues that security managers are already familiar with, and there are few, if any, really nasty new threats in store around the corner, according to the forecasts.

Like with years past, forecasts are colored by the vendor's specific view of their places in the market. For example, VeriSign, a provider of Internet infrastructure services, predicted increased attacks against critical targets including SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition ) systems, which deliver power. Desktop security software vendor Sophos, meanwhile, warned about dramatic increases in malicious e-mail attachments, and huge spikes in spam volume. And Web application security product vendors predicted an increase in Web attacks.

Together the forecasts paint a picture of a threat environment, while not pretty, looks largely like the one this year -- except that it will have more of everything. Among the forecasts were the following:

-- In 2009, more than 80 percent of all malicious content will be hosted on sites with "good" reputations, according to Web app security vendor Websense. Continuing a new trend, attackers will also move to a distributed model for controlling botnets and for hosting malicious code. Such "fast flux" networks allow malicious Web sites to be moved around quickly to make it harder, if not impossible, to locate and shut them down.

-- Phishing attacks against users of social networking sites will become more sophisticated, predicted MessageLabs, which is owned by Symantec. The goal of phishing attacks is to collect as much personal information as possible to allow the sending of highly targeted and sophisticated spam messages. Expect also to see an increase in attacks targeting smartphones, MessageLabs said. Attacks, delivered via free application downloads and games, surfaced this year and will become more malicious.

-- Next year, expect a sharp increase in SQL injection attacks on Web sites and an increase in scareware products, which are designed to scare people into buying largely useless products, says Sophos. Expect also to see a continuation in the increase of malicious e-mail attachments and spam both of which saw huge spikes in volume this year, Sophos said.

-- Online criminals looking to improve their odds of success will increasingly start using blended approaches that combine e-mail, Web-based attacks and system intrusions, says Cisco Systems. Botnets will become more versatile and criminals will use them to send spam, host malware or use them in direct attacks against specific targets. With an increase in remote workers and the related use of Web-based tools, mobile devices and virtualization technologies are also bound to cause more security worries for corporations, Cisco noted.

-- Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks will continue to grow in magnitude, said Arbor Networks. The largest bandwidth flood attacks this year generated peaks of about 40 gigabits of traffic. Next year, expect to see that number approach 100 gigabits, making it much harder for ISPs to rapidly mitigate such attacks, Arbor said.

-- There will be an increase in attacks on SCADA systems, which control critical infrastructures such as electrical power transmission, VeriSign predicted. The global financial crisis and resulting institutional mergers, consolidations and collapses will provide "unprecedented opportunities" for cybercrooks to seek to exploit in 2009, the company warned.

-- Among the newer threats in the collection of predictions for next year are those targeted against so-called rich Internet application and cloud computing environment according to Websense. As the popularity of RIA grows, there will be a growth in attacks that take advantage of vulnerabilities found with core RIA components and within user-created components to take remote control of end-user systems. Similarly, cloud computing environments will be increasingly used for sending spam or hosting malicious code, Websense noted.

Meanwhile IT managers themselves appeared to have a slightly different take on what the future holds on the security front.

A poll of 825 IT managers conducted by the Ponemon Institute think-tank, conducted on behalf of patch management vendor Lumension Security, showed about half saying that outsourcing was their biggest security concern.

Much of the concern appeared to be driven by the anticipation that companies will be increasing outsourcing of functions involving sensitive and confidential data to third parties, according to the study. Other threats mentioned by the group involved the threat from cybercriminals and security issues stemming from the growing use of mobile devices to store and access sensitive data.

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This story, "2009 security predictions: Deja vu all over again" was originally published by Computerworld.