Malware strains headed into the billions

A week rarely goes by without some kind of security report making headlines.
This week's token report, which just surfaced from security firm PandaLabs, says that about 25 million new strains of malware were created throughout 2009. PandaLabs actually said that it identified more new malware strains last year than it has during its entire 20-year company history.
The company also said that two thirds of these malware strains were banking Trojans. The next most popular type of malware was adware, which includes scareware (sometimes referred to as fake or rogue antivirus software).
While this news might be shocking to some, it really isn’t shocking to me. Actually I’m surprised the number of new malware strains is actually so low. PandaLabs said it expects 2010 to lead to an even bigger output of new malware strains. I don’t think we’re very far off from reaching numbers that hit the billions.
I’m going to predict that will see billions of new strains every year before the decade is up.
Let’s think about this for a second.
The IT security industry has never been bigger. Even a recession didn’t slow down the security spend in 2009. Also, one of the biggest stories of the year was the Conficker virus.
These factors guaranteed security vendors continued to do big business in 2009. This also meant that the vendors did their jobs and actually shut down most of these attacks. As more of these banking Trojans were stopped, the cyber criminals had to retreat back to the drawing board and come up with something slightly different.
And those slight differences create new malware strains. While PandaLabs obviously doesn’t list all of these different pieces of malware, it’s safe to assume many of them are simply slight variations on the same core design.
This is definitely true for many of these banking attacks and I’d argue the same goes for those rogue or fake antivirus scams you see on the Internet.
I was recently talking to a Symantec security expert Marc Fossi, who told me that anytime one of these fake antivirus programs are discovered, numerous more fake ones are created that claim to fight against it. Many of them are actually the same program, with some minor front-end changes to trick the user.
According to a report from Symantec last October, over 250 fake anti-virus programs are spread across nearly 200,000 domain names currently operating on the Web. These numbers will only get bigger as users get smarter at avoiding them and security vendors get more efficient at stopping them. The last thing I want to say is that none of this should be cause for any concern.
In almost all cases, the reason a security vendor such as PandaLabs decides to this study is to get IT leaders and CIOs thinking about security, and in turn, security spending. And while the 25 million new malware strains might seem like a lot now, it’s just the evolution of this market.
As more computing devices permeate into the world, more variants of malware will as well. Just as a predator evolves to gets faster at catching its prey, the prey will continue to get faster at evading it.
The same principles applies to technology. Every new technology will fix a few problems and add a few other problems.
All you have to do as an IT leader is hit that middle ground when you’re deciding how much to spend on security.
How you can do that? Well that’s the topic of another blog…

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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