IT security and control firm Sophos has published its latest Security Threat Report, which looks at worldwide cybercrime during the first quarter of 2008. The findings show a dramatic increase in web-based threats compared to 2007 the first three months of 2008 showed Sophos finding and blocking a new infected webpage every five seconds, compared with one every 14 seconds last year.

U.S. Now Hosts More Malware Than Any Other Country

The top ten countries hosting web-based malware in Q1 2008:

1. United States 42.0%
2. China 30.1%
3. Russia 10.3%
4. Germany 2.2%
5. Ukraine 1.7%
6. Turkey 1.6%
7. United Kingdom 1.1%
8. Thailand 1.0%
9. Czech Republic 0.9%
10. Canada 0.7%
Others 8.4%

Research into which countries host the most infected web pages shows some interesting changes since the 2007 Sophos Security Threat Report. The United States in particular has experienced unprecedented growth, from hosting less than 25 percent of all infected pages overall in 2007, to almost half in the first three months of 2008.

China has demonstrated the biggest drop, from hosting more than half of all the infected pages seen by Sophos in 2007, to just under a third in the first quarter of 2008. Elsewhere in the chart, newcomer Thailand was responsible for hosting 1 percent of all malware infected web pages, while the UK hosted 1.1 percent, down from 3 percent in the same period last year.

“The U.S. and China are no strangers to this chart, with the two countries long holding the top two spots in this hall of shame,” notes Mark Harris, global director of SophosLabs. However, the bottom half of the chart remains fluid, indicating that users need to remain vigilant.

Hacked Sites Pose Greatest Risk To IT Security

From January to the end of March 2008, Sophos identified an average of more than 15,000 newly infected web pages each day. Most worrying for computer users, is the fact that the majority of these poisoned sites 79 percent are found on legitimate websites that have been hacked. February saw the website of UK broadcaster ITV fall victim to a poisoned web advert campaign which targeted both Windows and Mac users, while in March a Euro 2008 football ticket website was hacked by cybercriminals in an attempt to infect unwary fans. In contrast, just one in every 2500 emails is now infected, compared to one in every 909 in 2007.

The top ten malware found on the web in Q1 2008:

1. Mal/Iframe 29.0%
2. Mal/ObfJS 27.0%
3. Mal/ZlobJS 6.7%
4. Mal/Psyme 2.6%
= 5. Troj/Decdec 2.2%
= 5. Troj/Fujif 2.2%
7. Troj/Unif 1.8%
8. Troj/Dload 1.1%
= 9. VBS/Haptime 1.0%
= 9. VBS/Edibara 1.0%
Others 25.4%

The top two web threats, Mal/Iframe and Mal/ObfJS, which are together responsible for more than half of all the online malware found by SophosLabs, are programmed by cybercriminals to infect websites by taking advantage of vulnerabilities. Sophos experts warn that companies can protect their network by investing in web security that scans a webpage for malware before granting access, while companies need to ensure that their web servers are protected against hack attacks.

“About 1 percent of web requests now deliver an infected page, most of which are legitimate websites belonging to people just trying to earn a living, says Harris.

Data Leaks Continue To Cause Embarrassment

Data leakage continues to be a major concern for organizations, with several high profile cases of businesses losing sensitive customer information reported during the first three months of 2008. In March, the largest reported data breach this year involved the credit card numbers of more than four million customers being stolen from U.S. supermarket chain Hannaford Bros. The credit card details, taken by cybercriminals using malware installed on servers at the chains branches, have already been used in approximately 1800 fraud cases.

These incidents cause embarrassment to businesses and government agencies and are a concern for all consumers. Sophos experts warn that cybercriminals are now more experienced and better resourced in the delivery of sophisticated attacks.

As well as ensuring payment card industry (PCI) guideline compliance, Sophos reminds businesses to consider employing further measures to make their computer systems as secure and unattractive a target for hackers as possible. Several PCI compliant companies, including Hannafords, have fallen foul of enterprising cybercriminals in recent months, adds Harris. “With more comprehensive solutions in place, businesses can make their data unappetizing to greedy hackers who are only after a free lunch.