Online security threats rise in May

Cyber crime

The seemingly inexorable rise of online threats continued in May, with levels of spam, viruses, phishing and malware all increasing over April, according to a new report from Symantec.

More than 12 per cent of all internet-based malware intercepted in May by Symantec's MessageLabs Intelligence team was new, showing a rise of 1.5 percentage points over the previous month.

The researchers also identified an average of 1,770 new websites a day containing malware and other potentially dangerous programs this month, representing an increase of 5.6 per cent.

As for phishing attacks, the UK remained the most active country in this area. Globally, phishing activity went up by 0.2 percentage points.

One in every 1.11 emails in May was spam from new and previously unknown sources, accounting for a rise of 0.3 percentage points. The analysis also discovered that nine out of 10 spam emails now features a URL link, only five per cent of which lead to genuine websites.

"Domains belonging to well-known web sites tend to be recycled and used continuously compared with 'disposable' domains which are used for a short period of time and never seen again," MessageLabs Intelligence senior analyst Paul Wood said in a statement.

"Perhaps this is because there is some work involved in acquiring them: the legitimate domains require CAPTCHAs to be solved to create the large numbers of accounts that are then used by spammers," he added.

As is to be expected, cyber criminals will be using the upcoming World Cup as a launch pad and MessageLabs Intelligence discovered a malware attack emanating from China based around the competition.

"Once downloaded and activated, the malware produces files that generate pop-up messages and in the background collects information on what other machines are on the same network enabling the attacker further access to the compromised computer," Wood said, explaining how the threat operated.

In one piece of good news for security conscious web users, 22.6 per cent of malware carried by emails featured links to malicious websites, representing a fall of 6.3 percentage points from April.

Those keen to steer clear of threats may want to check what is on their USB devices too. A McAfee report from earlier this month found that using USBs to spread malware had made a comeback. Indeed, IBM this week came under fire for handing out malware-infected devices in Australia.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.