11 March 2014

New McAfee Threats Report identifies two major security challenges

McAfee Labs has released the McAfee Labs Threats Report: Fourth Quarter 2013, highlighting the increased threat from credit card theft. The company also said problem software is increasingly disguised to look legitimate, making the likelihood of getting infected more likely.

Each quarter, the McAfee Labs team of 500 multidisciplinary researchers in 30 countries follows the complete range of threats in real time, identifying application vulnerabilities, analysing and correlating risks, and helping to protect enterprises and the public.  

Detailed research of the high-profile Q4 credit card data breaches found that the point-of-sale (POS) malware used in the attacks were relatively unsophisticated and likely purchased “off the shelf”. McAfee Labs’ ongoing research into underground markets further identified the attempted sale of stolen credit card numbers and personal information known to have been compromised in the Q4 retail breaches. The researchers found the thieves offering for sale some of the 40 million credit card numbers reported stolen in batches of between 1 million and 4 million at a time. 

“The fourth quarter of 2013 will be remembered as the period when cybercrime became ‘real’ for more people than ever before,” said Vincent Weafer, Senior VP for McAfee Labs. “These cyber thefts occurred at a time when most people were focused on their holiday shopping and when the industry wanted people to feel secure and confident in their purchases. The impact of these attacks will be felt both at the kitchen table as well as the boardroom table."

In the fourth quarter alone, McAfee Labs found more than 2.3 million new malicious signed applications, a 52% increase from the previous quarter. The practice of code-signing software validates the identity of the developer who produced the code and ensures the code has not been tampered with since the issue of its digital certificate. The vast majority of growth is due to dubious content development networks (CDNs). These are websites and companies that allow developers to upload their programs, or a URL that links to an external application, and then 'wrap' it in a signed installer. 

“We can see from the threat statistics in the Q4 report that Asia Pacific comes in third place after North America and the Europe-Middle East market, with 8.4% of servers hosting suspect content here,” said Wahab Yusoff, Vice President for McAfee South Asia. 

“Although only a rather small number of suspicious content is hosted in Asia, we should remain vigilant and monitor the situation as cyber attacks don’t know physical borders.” 

The McAfee Labs team warns that the growing number of maliciously signed files could create confusion among users and administrators, and even call into question the continued viability of the long-established certificate authority (CA) model for authenticating “safe” software. 

“Although the expansion of the CA and CDN industries has dramatically lowered the cost of developing and issuing software for developers, the standards for qualifying the identity of the publisher have also decreased dramatically,” said Weafer. 

“We will need to learn to place more trust in the reputation of the vendor that signed the file, and less trust in the simple presence of a certificate.” 

Click here to read the full McAfee Labs Threats Report: Fourth Quarter 2013 report.