What Motivates Virus Writers? Money

While the whole world struggled with the challenges posed by the recession, malware continued growing unaffected, according to F-Secure's data security wrap-up for 2009.

Like pizza, malware is now available on demand, but it is offered by criminal gangs. With this kind of proliferation, the number of individualised variants of viruses and other malware seems infinite, says the anti-virus and computer security software company.

Millions affected by Conficker

According to Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure, there was no let-up in the growth of sophisticated online threats in 2009. The situation was quite the opposite actually with virus writers continually driven by the motivation of making money.

Conficker remained one of the most deadly worms this year. It harmed several companies both in the private and public sector by spreading very quickly in computers using the Windows XP operating system which had not been patched with a late 2008 Microsoft update. Millions of computers remain infected with Conficker at the end of 2009, said F-Secure.

Microsoft launched the Windows 7 operating system as a replacement for Windows Vista and Windows XP. Both Vista and XP were affected by major security issues. The replacement, Windows 7, is a more secure operating system, and has an improved user security experience compared to Vista.

Jailbroken iPhones worm

Consumers now demand better user experience and improved security and manufacturers are stepping up efforts to address this demand. Notebooks are increasing in popularity and so are smart phones. This year, smart phones have become very powerful and are being used for Internet-based activities. F-secure said this trend was driven by the iPhone and other touchscreen smart phones.

Jailbroken iPhones became a target for the first profit-motivated malware on this platform at the end of 2009. F-secure noted a Dutch hacker that exploited a jailbroken iPhone vulnerability and an Australian boy who wrote a worm in an attempt to punish those who did not change their default SSH password.

These two episodes were closely followed by the emergence of the first stealthy worm for jailbroken iPhones. These worms aimed to create a mobile botnet and gain access to online banking details.

"In 2009, criminals have shown that they have an insatiable appetite for online resources which can be turned into commodities," said Hyppönen. "Their botnets are being used for search engine optimisation attacks, for pushing rogue security software, and for hosting websites that drive consumers to scams and drive-by downloads."

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