McAfee Threats Report: Bet You Didn't Know About These Two

Keep Your Eyes Peeled For These Threats

The number of unique malware samples gathered by Intel-owned McAfee surpassed 75 million in 2011, making it the busiest year ever recorded by the security vendor. McAfee's Threats Report for the fourth quarter of 2011 had some interesting findings, including attacks on industrial systems -- two of them in the southern U.S. Mobile threats continued to increase, driven by a big jump in Android malware. And while PC-based malware declined, the number of malicious Web sites increased, along with the number of reported data breaches.

Here, CRN takes a look at the biggest security threats to watch out for as highlighted in McAfee's latest Threats Report.

Key Attacks On Industrial Systems

In early November, malware disabled the automated response system at St. John ambulance communication centers in New Zealand. The centers, which receive more than 1 million calls a year, had to be switched from an automated system to a manual one for allocating ambulances. That same month, an attacker known as Pr0f released screenshots of the user interface used to monitor and control equipment at the Water and Sewer Department for South Houston, Texas. In December, malware detected on the networks of Lawrenceville and Duluth, Ga., forced an area hospital system to temporarily close.

Android Top Malware Target

The fourth quarter of 2011 cemented Android as the largest target for cybercriminals writing mobile malware. Most of the Android malware was for-profit text-sending Trojans, which funneled profits to cybercriminals by hijacking phones and sending messages that cost their owners money. McAfee also found that attackers increasingly repackaged apps that root Android phones so they could install malware that would go undetected in a layer below the operating system.

"Given that more of the world's users will conduct personal and business transactions through mobile devices, the industry faces a tremendous challenge, requiring more cooperation and coordination to keep them safe," Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs, said.

Data Breaches Double

The number of reports of data breaches due to hacking, malware, fraud and insiders topped 40 in the quarter. The number of breaches has more than doubled since 2009, according to McAfee. The leading network threat came through vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows remote procedure calls, followed closely by SQL injection and cross-site scripting attacks.

Malicious Web Sites On Rise

The number of new malicious Web sites trying to trick visitors into downloading malware shot up from an average of 6,500 per day in the third quarter to 9,300 in the fourth quarter. McAfee estimates about one in 400 URLs were malicious on average each day, with rates as high as one in every 200 URLs. The total number of active malicious URLs surpassed 700,000 in the quarter. The vast majority of the sites were located in the U.S., followed by the Netherlands, Canada, South Korea and Germany.

PC-Based Malware Declines

The growth in PC-based malware declined throughout the fourth quarter of last year and was significantly lower than the same quarter a year ago. Fake antivirus software designed to trick people into thinking that their systems were infected showed a slight decline in the fourth quarter, while password-stealing Trojans showed a modest decline as well. Mac OS malware remained at very low levels the last half of the year.

Spam Drops, But Spammers Get Smarter

Global spam reached its lowest level in years, especially in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina and South Korea. Cutwail remained the world's largest spam-spewing botnet. While the amount of spam has fallen, the level of sophistication has risen, with spammers getting much craftier at tricking people into opening attachments or clicking on malicious links embedded in e-mails.