"In Q1 and Q2 we saw a lot of IM virus variants," said David Jaros, the director of product marketing at San Diego-based Akonix. "Lots of Kelvir and Bropia variants. But in Q3 we started seeing new parent worms, and a new wave of attacks."
In September alone, Akonix tracked seven new IM viruses, Trojans, or worms, a one-month record. Among the newcomers: Mete, Parda, Simbag, and Lewor.
More troubling, said Jaros, is that IM networks are experiencing an average of at least one IM-based attack each day, and attackers are getting craftier at working social engineering angles.
"They're getting more sophisticated," said Jaros.
In August, the Kelvir.hi worm was the first to query the victim's client software to determine the language setting, then sent its baited message in one of ten different tongues. And this month saw the debut of the Mete worm, which targeted Spanish speakers. More IM worms are also spreading through P2P file-sharing networks, such as Kazaa, said Jaros.
The progression in both quantity and quality of IM malware is on the same track, albeit behind, the improvements and increased numbers of worms carried by e-mail, Jaros said. In other words, there's nothing about the trend that should surprise anyone.
"IM worms are consistent with other viruses, even to the point of how they infect and what they're after. We're seeing the same things in IM now that we've seen in the e-mail world."
Those using instant messaging to spread their creations typically send messages to all contacts recorded on a compromised machine, disguising those messages as coming from trusted friends. Links in these messages lead users to a malicious Web site, where they're infected by a Trojan horse or spyware that can take control of the computer (for sending spam or disseminating other malicious code) or stealing confidential information such as online bank access usernames and passwords.
Enterprises that don't secure their worker's access to public IM networks such as those run by AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo are looking for trouble, he added. "It's a fact any time you provide access [to these networks]. The more you use IM the more vulnerable you are."
Like other IM security vendors, Akonix hosts a security center that lists the latest and most dangerous threats to instant messaging users.