Most Malware Found on Trusted Web Pages, Report Says

Five seconds into reading this story, a Web page somewhere will become infected with malware or some other malicious code. That's one of the conclusions of U.K.-based IT security firm Sophos in an IT security report released on Wednesday.

"We found that there is an average of 16,173 infected Web pages on a daily basis," said Sophos' Senior Technology Consultant Graham Cluley in a phone interview from his office in London. "We arrived at this conclusion from our labs around the world. We look at millions of e-mails and Web page transmissions on a daily basis and it averages out to one infected page every five seconds."

The threat report covers the first six months of this year and according to Cluley and the report itself, the page infections are occurring at a rate three times faster than the comparable period in 2007.

The report identified the Windows OS as the largest target for malware. It also found that 90 percent of infected Web pages derived from trusted sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as other oft-visited destinations.

The report pegged the do-it-yourself blogging portal as the top host for malware on the World Wide Web, with an estimated two percent of the malicious software being incubated and launched on that site alone. The study also mentioned the astronomical rise of spam on mobile devices in places such as China, where such junk mail messages grew to almost 354 billion in 2007.

The one major security theme in the report was the recent rise in SQL injection attacks that exploit security vulnerabilities in application code linked to a back-end database. These attacks can provide an entrance for hackers, allowing them to elevate their network privileges and change data fields.

"What we've seen with these attacks is that even if you clean up the database and get rid of the virus there, it could either be just a decoy for another injection attack or another virus will come along soon," Cluley said.

At risk are traditional brick-and-mortar companies that have decided to foster an increased presence on the Web. Their e-commerce platforms could be vulnerable to manipulation by hackers, the report stresses. In addition to applying security patches, some enterprises should have a "security lock box" or Web appliance as a buffer between the end user and the enterprises' infrastructure.

The lessons particularly apply to small and mid-size companies.

"Hackers have by and large stopped using e-mail as an entry point and instead decided to frame their attacks in and around the Web browser," Cluley further warned. "Big companies may have the infrastructure and the money to act, but the real necessity here is for small and medium sized businesses to reassess Internet security. This is clearly an opportunity for channel partners as well as enterprises themselves to collaborate and get involved, whether it's a consultant for the business or an internal mandate."

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is a business consultant and an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others. He consulted for Deloitte & Touche LLP and was a business and world affairs commentator on ABC and CNN.