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Overall most threats have dropped, but "Misc Trojans" which include fake antivirus suites, are on the rise.  (Source: Microsoft)
Two rogue security software families are on millions of computers

When it comes to computer security, most users are aware that there are dangers, but are woefully unaware of what these dangers are.  They rely blindly on security software to protect them against these unseen evils.  Unfortunately, malware makers have caught on to this and have began releasing fake security suites that essentially do little-to-nothing to protect users, and even sometimes perform malicious actions.

Microsoft sixth Security Intelligence Report, covering the second half of 2008 details the rise of so-called "scareware" -- fake security suites feeding off user fear.  Microsoft takes a great deal of interest in computer security.  Not only is it going to soon be offering free antivirus software to Windows users, but it also has much at stake -- as the the operating system leader, its systems are the primary target of elicit internet activity.

While the new report covers many topics, perhaps the most interesting is its analysis of the rise of scareware mongers -- modern snake oil salespeople.  Describes the report, "The prevalence of rogue security software has increased significantly over the past [year and a half].  Rogue security software uses fear and annoyance tactics to convince victims to pay for 'full versions' of the software in order to remove and protect themselves from malware, to stop the continual alerts and warnings, or both."

The report identifies two software families --
Win32/FakeXPA and Win32/FakeSecSen -- which were the biggest threat.  The fake security suites associated with these families were found on over 1.5 million machines, making them among the most dangerous security threats.

This kind of deception has led some -- like
Alex Stamos, co-founder and partner at software security company ISEC Partners -- to suggest that "normal" users avoid internet use.  He stated at a recent conference, "The Internet cannot be safely used by normal people.  Most people are not prepared to make the technical decisions necessary to safely use the Internet."

Still, others argue that increased legitimate protection, which should expand to include better means of removing illegitimate security suites, can make up for user gullibility, to some extent.  Ultimately gullibility and irresponsibility continue to be key factors in the insecurity of the internet.  Of system breaches in the second half of 2008, over half (50 percent) were caused by lost or misplaced equipment by network users.

The report also finds that while operating systems like Windows are increasingly secure, the number of attacks on the application layer is vastly increasing.  Applications require a level of trust, but that trust in turn allows abuse.  Over 90 percent of vulnerabilities covered in the report targeted the application layer.  This explains why increasingly Mac computers are being hacked and made vulnerable, despite the general lack of interest in attacking the underlying OS.

Evidence of Windows Vista's improvements in security over Windows XP were evident in the survey.  Approximately
40.9 percent of browser exploits on Windows XP machines targeted Microsoft software, while only 5.5 percent did on Vista.  Microsoft's additions to the application layers, such as Microsoft Office, also have greatly reduced in number of unpatched exploits.  Describes the report, "The most frequently exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office software were also some of the oldest.  Over ninety-one percent of attacks examined exploited a single vulnerability for which a security fix had been available for more than two years (CVE-2006-2492)."

While the report represents good news for Microsoft -- that its security efforts are working -- it's also bittersweet.  Microsoft is finding that security threats are increasingly not targeting its software.  That puts tremendous pressure on Microsoft to deliver with its upcoming antivirus software offerings, as customers have come to expect much from the OS provider in terms of security.

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too many people dont know...
By zshift on 4/10/2009 10:18:24 AM , Rating: 3
the problem isn't the software, it's users. more specifically, it's users being unaware of what they are using on their computers and how it works. These people usually get a small infection that shows a tooltip popping up from the taskbar saying that windows has detected a virus, "click here" for approved Micro$oft software to remove it." of course, any of us here would catch that on the spot, but most people have no reason to believe it's not genuine (no pun intended). the go to the site, see the program called "antivirus xp 20xx" (xx being any recent year of course, ive seen variations of this since early 08), and pay and download it because it looks completely legitimate. The problem is people have no reason to think its fake and they think it works. these are also the same people that have no idea what the difference is between office and windows, or what an operating system even is. these are some sad times we live in, because since i was 7 (yes, 7) i never had a problem figuring out the difference between windows and office. it never occured to me that they could even be the same thing.

RE: too many people dont know...
By HackSacken on 4/10/2009 11:50:39 AM , Rating: 2
I couldn't agree with you more. It's simply b/c of deception and ppl are unaware. The irony of it all though is the user almost usually has to go to a "not-so-creditable" site to initiate the deception scheme. If you stick to reputable sites, shouldn't be an issue. Heck, with that tactic, you can probably get away with not even loading actual Anti-virus software and other protection programs.

The issue probably arises almost as soon as someone goes to Google and "Feels Lucky," gets distracted by an ad promising an easy search toolbar with tons of smileys included.

RE: too many people dont know...
By HackSacken on 4/10/2009 12:04:57 PM , Rating: 2

Goes to google to search for free mp3s.

RE: too many people dont know...
By rohith10 on 4/11/2009 6:47:56 AM , Rating: 2
I kinda agree with most of what you said, but nowadays the million dollar question tends to be, "How safe is a reputable site?"

Legitimate sites can be compromised with attack code. In such cases, the anti-virus will be the only protection you have.

RE: too many people dont know...
By nixoofta on 4/10/2009 3:04:24 PM , Rating: 2
For more information about these threats:

Click Here


RE: too many people dont know...
By sinful on 4/10/2009 3:58:20 PM , Rating: 2
I tried clicking your link but it didn't work...I guess my interwebs are full again, where do I buy that interweb cleaner softwarez again?


RE: too many people dont know...
By inighthawki on 4/10/2009 3:35:36 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think the average person even needs security software at all. Just existing, windows doesn't get viruses, the user has to infect the computer, usually by visiting various "suspicious" websites. I myself don't use antivirus at all, and my system never gets any viruses. I had AVG installed for years and after never once getting a virus, i decided it wasnt worth it eating whatever resources it did. I obviously can't speak for anyone (or most people for the matter) but if i actually do get a virus i can reformat relatively easily, but the chances of that are slim anyway.

RE: too many people dont know...
By TomZ on 4/10/2009 5:09:07 PM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately that's not completely true. Many virus attacks on your computer can come through your network connection. Hence the reason most of us sit behind firewalls - which are a form of security software that we all need.

By inighthawki on 4/10/2009 8:14:57 PM , Rating: 2
Windows firewall has never failed me yet...

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