Cybercrime on an upward spiral

Everyone from governments to large enterprises, small business and home users are facing a wide range of digital threats from this growing menace

It is an all-too-common headline: Prominent website brought down by attackers. Whether it be a Fortune 500 global enterprise, a governmental agency or a small to mid-sized business (SMB)—all are on the target list of today's cyber-thugs. Even security-savvy businesses with plenty of financial resources and experts to protect themselves have fallen victim to this threat, including Amazon, Visa, Sony, and lately some of the government websites here. The risk is real and increasingly dangerous.

A quick snapshot of this disturbing trend: McAfee says that the total number of data breaches in 2012 has already surpassed the figure for the entire 2011 calendar year; this year, close to 100 new database-related vulnerabilities have been disclosed or silently patched by developers. Among Web and messaging threats, the wholly owned subsidiary of Intel saw a 20% increase in the third quarter this year in suspicious URLs, with a vast number of these URLs hosting malware.

In Q3, McAfee says that the number of unique samples of ransomware, which extorts money from its victims, grew by another 43%, making it one of the fastest-growing areas of cybercrime. Devices are infected via links in email and social networks, drive-by downloads, and pay-per-install methods. Most malware typically accuses the user of visiting illegal websites, locks the computer, and then demands a payment to unlock the device. Although victims can pay, they are not guaranteed complete system restores.

Online financial fraud attacks have spread too. New research indicates that Operation High Roller, a financial fraud ring identified earlier this year by McAfee Labs and Guardian Analytics, has now spread outside Europe, including to the United States and Colombia. Cybercriminals set up an automated transfer system (ATS) that was used to attack European financial institutions, and set out to target a major US multinational financial institution.

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