Cyber crime appears to fall despite World Cup

Cyber crime

Even though the World Cup has been leapt upon by cyber criminals as a basis for their attacks, overall levels of email-based spam, viruses and phishing seem to have dropped.

Figures from a Symantec MessageLabs Intelligence report have shown that one in 1.12 emails in June was spam from new and previously unknown bad sources, representing a decrease of 0.9 percentage points from May.

Viruses carried in emails from previously unknown bad origins dropped by 0.11 percentage points, while 16.7 percent of email-borne malware featured links to malicious websites, representing a fall of 5.9 percentage points since May.

Phishing activity, meanwhile, was present in one in 634.4 emails - a decrease of 0.26 percentage points.

However, senior analyst at Symantec Hosted Services Paul Wood said that even though the figures show a drop in various forms of illicit online actions, it is not clear that malicious web activity has eased over the last month.

"It is difficult to gage objectively if cyber crime has actually gone down," Wood told IT PRO.

He admitted that the figures indicate "the landscape has shifted", but this could mean that the criminals are simply becoming more sophisticated.

Wood warned against falling into a false sense of security and noted the manifold ways in which malware can be transmitted onto systems now, pointing to recent cases involving digital cameras and USB sticks.

What is certain, however, is that World Cup-related threats significantly increased in the build-up to the tournament.

The percentage of spam associated with football keywords since March 2010 reached almost a quarter of all global spam in the days leading up to the competition, the MessageLabs figures showed.

Earlier this month, the security body intercepted a spate of malware emails making their way to executives and managers at Brazilian companies.

The aim of the 45 messages was to gain access to corporate data by exploiting the excitement surrounding the tournament in one of the most famous footballing nations in the world.

Not only did the emails feature a malicious link, the masterminds behind the operation also added a PDF attachment in the hope that if the attachment was removed by the anti-virus gateway then the link would remain in the cleaned message.

"Because it is such a big event, scammers, spammers and other cyber criminals will adjust and adapt their campaigns," Wood explained.

He pointed out that some will take the time and manually change their attacks, while others, especially spammers, will scrape current affairs news and then add snippets to their messages with a World Cup-related subject line.

With the latter, this can help make the message appear "less spammy" and get through certain filters, Wood added.

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.