By David Jeffers, PCWorldAug 17, 2012 12:48 pm PDT
Malware attacks seem to be evolving. The traditional viruses, Trojan horses, botnets, and phishing attacks are still a threat, but the next generation malware takes insidious to a whole new level. Thankfully, there’s a silver lining as well.
A new threat dubbed Shamoon has been identified that steals sensitive data, then wipes the target computer and effectively renders it useless. Shamoon–along with Stuxnet, Duqu, Flame, and Gauss–represents a new era of malware that is designed with specific goals in mind, and programmed to fly under the radar and evade detection in most cases.
In the early 90’s the primary goal of malware developers seemed to be notoriety. The objective was to wreak as much havoc as possible in order to get attention and make the malware a household name. There were attacks like CodeRed, Nimda, or the infamous SQL Slammer attack that managed to bring much of the Internet around the world to its knees in under an hour.
Eventually, malware evolved into big business and the focus shifted. Cyber criminals can capture sensitive information like usernames, passwords, or banking and credit card information from compromised machines. Tens of thousands of surreptitiously controlled PCs can form a botnet, which malware developers can use as a platform for distributing spam, phishing attacks, or other malware. Malware became a real threat instead of a mere nuisance.
Thankfully, most malware exploits known vulnerabilities for which patches already exist. Defending against the average malware threat is as simple as keeping your PCs and mobile devices up to date, and employing cross-device security tools that can identify and block malware threats on all of your platforms.
New threats like Shamoon are another story, though. Stuxnet, Duqu, Flame, and even Gauss are believed to be sophisticated, state-sponsored malware developed for the purpose of cyber espionage against specific targets. Shamoon—the latest of the new breed of malware—is thought to be a copycat attack using some of the same techniques for stealthy, targeted attacks, but without the international spying aspect.
The bad news is that this new breed of malware seems to be exceptional at evading detection. Threats like Stuxnet and Flame appear to have been circulating in the wild for years before being identified by security researchers. The malware exploits zero day flaws that software vendors and security researchers are unaware of to sneak in and operate behind the scenes.
The good news is that these next-generation malware attacks are highly targeted. They seem to be developed with very specific goals in mind, and are deployed with more precision than an average malware threat. Controlling the spread of the threat, and limiting the scope of the attack is another way of avoiding detection. Odds are fair that your PC won’t be in the crosshairs of one of these malware threats.
For businesses and consumers, the recipe for solid malware defense remains the same: Apply all patches to fix the holes in your operating systems and applications before malware attacks, and keep your security tools up to date in order to identify and block known threats and suspicious activity.