January 18, 2011, 8:43 AM — About two-thirds of malicious Web activity can be traced back to botnets and exploit code built using popular attack toolkits sold in the underground economy, according to a new Symantec report.
The top three attack toolkits in terms of malicious Web activity are MPack (48%), NeoSploit (31%) and ZeuS (19%), the notorious software used in botnet form to steal financial data and execute fraudulent transactions, according to the report, which covers June 2009 through July 2010.
In analyzing the selling and software development tactics that could be deduced in this shadowy online world, Symantec notes the dog-eat-dog environment in the fight to oust rivals and gain criminally-minded customers willing to pay the price—from as low as $40 for some attack toolkits to as much as $8,000 and more for ZeuS—along with any specialized services for malware.
Symantec, like other IT security vendors, has no choice but to delve into the world of attack toolkits since so many security countermeasures, such as anti-virus signatures to protected unpatched computers, have to be designed based on what the crime world's software developers do. Kevin Haley, director of Symantec Security Response, says to his knowledge it's not illegal to develop attack toolkits, just to use them in some form to commit an actual crime.
"We believe the tremendous growth of malware we've seen in the last two years is driven by these toolkits," he says.
These attack toolkits make it fairly easy for anyone to get into rackets that include everything from running botnets for spam, financial crime and denial-of-service attacks to just the process of compromising PCs with malicious trojans through Web drive-by downloads, often from legitimate websites that have been compromised.
Known adult entertainment and video streaming websites, along with their misspelled-typo equivalents, are said to be the most likely types of sites searched for that attackers load up with malware. Games, music, software/technology and file-sharing are far less likely spots, according to the report. "The bad guys know what people are searching for," says Haley.