Identity Theft Malware Surges 600%
Hard times appear to be one reason for the explosion of malicious software designed to steal sensitive personal and financial information.
The indictment of Albert Gonzales of Miami, Fla., for allegedly hacking into corporate computers and stealing more than 130 million credit and debit cards may not have much impact on the identity theft underground.
In the first half of 2009, the number of computer users affected by malware engineered to steal personal information has risen by 600% compared to the January through June period in 2008, according to PandaLabs, part of computer security company Panda Security. In quantitative terms, Panda reports identifying 391,406 computers infected with identity-theft malware in the first six months of the year.
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Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs, speculates that the global economic downturn and the thriving black market for credit and debit card numbers and online account information is driving the creation of so much identity stealing malware. He also notes that the distribution of identity-theft malware through social networks and services like Facebook and Twitter is on the rise.
Panda reports receiving more than 35,000 new malware samples -- viruses, worms, Trojans and the like -- every day. Trojan software designed to steal bank details, credit/debit card numbers, or online account login names and passwords represents 71% of this total. That's up from 51% in 2007.
Identity thieves are also seeking sensitive information through a more diverse set of targets. Where previously financial data thieves focused on spoofing online bank sites to dupe users into entering login information, they have recently been targeting a variety of services where payment account information may be stored or entered, like PayPal, Amazon, eBay, or charity sites.
The methods used to propagate identity theft malware have also become more diverse. Whereas e-mail used to be the primary medium for malware distribution, social sites have become a major attack vector, along with infected Web pages, SMS messages containing Web links, and spyware that attempts to convince users to pay for fake antivirus programs.
Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr. said the indictment of Gonzales shows that law enforcement can track down even the most sophisticated global hacking conspiracies. Whether law enforcement can keep up with growth of the identity theft industry remains to be seen.
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