Extortion-enabling malware and online fraud rings are on the rise, according to McAfee researchers, whose discoveries highlight a trend: that cyber crime growing and evolving worldwide.

Earlier this month, McAfee Labs released the McAfee Threats Report: Third Quarter 2012, which analyzes global hacking activity across public and private networks. As criminal network infiltration incidents increased, various malware strains also grew in prominence.

However, Adam Wosotowsky, a messaging data architect for McAfee and report author, doesn’t think readers should be alarmed at this point.

“Once you’ve been paying attention to things for a long enough time, you see the ebbs and flows, and those news stories that may have once freaked you out, they no longer freak you out,” he said. “They’re just telling you information. The idea is not to scare people but to let people know what’s going on out there in the world.”

Regardless, McAfee’s findings may indeed terrify people with networks to protect. Researchers detected more than 100 million malware samples for September 2012, the highest number in the last 11 months. They detected more than 20,000 mobile malware samples in 2012, which dwarfed the less-than-3,000 detected for mobile devices in 2011.

According to Wosotowsky, malware evolution is directly related to the staggering increase in its frequency. “The bad guys are adapting themselves; they are changing their techniques,” he said. “Every time they come out with a new technique, it just stacks on the old techniques. It’s not like they’re replacing one thing with another. They’re just adding more and more tools to their toolbox.”

The report highlights code designed to wreak financial havoc:

  • Using ransomware, criminals restrict access to an infected system and demand a ransom be paid before they remove it. Researchers deemed ransomware one of the fastest-growing attack vectors because its presence grew by 43 percent in 2012’s third quarter.
  • Operation High Roller is an online fraud ring that was associated with European incidents in summer 2012, but has now spread to America and other countries. In this attack, criminals use fraudulent online bank transfers to steal money. Culprits gain access to remote banking computers to execute the operation, so they don’t need to infiltrate a victim’s computer directly.

Operation High Roller’s behavior exemplifies malware’s growing sophistication.

“They can actually remove money from your account, and then when you go to the banking website, they can add that money back in, so it looks to the user like they’re not having their account stolen until they start to bounce checks,” Wosotowsky said.

He recommends internal application monitoring to circumvent "network funny business." If a computer is processing more data at 2 a.m. than is normal for that time of night, for example, that could signal suspicious activity.

The McAfee report also contains uplifting cyber crime news. Bulgarian authorities arrested several people who’d attacked more than 500 websites globally, including financial and government portals. And also in summer 2012, 24 people were arrested for their involvement in the global online trading of stolen credit card numbers.

Read the McAfee report here:

 
Main image courtesy of Shutterstock
Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.