By Michael Kahn
Computer hackers seeking financial gain rather than thrills or
notoriety are increasingly flooding the Internet with malicious
software code, according to a semi-annual report issued on Sunday.
Symantec Corp.'s Internet Security Threat Report said during the first
half of 2005 the number of new viruses targeting Microsoft Windows
users jumped 48 percent to nearly 11,000 compared to the previous six
months as hackers used new tools and a growing sophistication to
create malicious code.
The latest report by the world's biggest security software maker also
found that viruses exposing confidential information made up
three-quarters of the top 50 viruses, worms and Trojans, up from 54
percent in the last six months of 2004.
It also said an increasing amount of menacing software allowed spam to
be relayed automatically from computer to computer. These so-called
"Trojan" programs can download and install adware to display pop-up
ads in a user's Web browser.
More so-called robot, or "bot" networks, which are created when a
hacker illegally gains control of a large number of computers, are now
available for sale or rent in the underworld of the Internet, Symantec
"As financial rewards increase, attackers will likely develop more
sophisticated and stealthier malicious code that will attempt to
disable antivirus, firewalls, and other security concerns," the report
Vincent Weafer, a security expert at Symantec, said early generations
of cybervandals tended to unleash viruses as a way to bolster their
reputations in the murky hacker world but now the motivation has
turned to financial gain using more targeted malicious software.
The number of headline-grabbing viruses has slowed since the Blaster
worm outbreak in 2003, which targeted Microsoft software and
devastated hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide.
Instead, there is now a surge in people trying to gain control over a
network of computers to launch attacks as well as a growing number of
phishing scams that trick users into clicking onto a Web site that
contains infected code, he said.
"We are seeing a very significant change where we are seeing far fewer
large pandemics," Weafer said. "However we are seeing a large volume
increase in cyberattacks, viruses and variants."
Indeed, Symantec saw an average of 10,532 active bot network computers
per day, an increase of more than 140 percent over the prior six
It also said phishing messages grew to an average 5.70 million
messages a day from 2.99 million.
"What we are saying is that attackers are increasingly targeting your
assets and your private information," Weafer said.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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