Security Flaws In Windows Increase Threat Danger

It’s no secret that Windows is a huge target for hackers and other nefarious internet denizens intent on causing mayhem in unwitting computer users.  Unfortunately Linux and Macs are increasingly targeted these days.  Businesses should be aware of the risks and educate all their staff on the dangers of using particular programs, such as peer to peer networks.  Although it should be “common knowledge” unfortunately some people still do not understand the risks involved.

Another relatively new and growing danger: peer-to-peer networks and instant messaging. Expect virus writers and snoops to start exploiting the popularity of peer-to-peer networks, such as Grokster, Kazaa, and Morpheus, and instant-messaging services offered by America Online and others.

Any company with employees using peer-to-peer file-sharing networks is inviting trouble. Consider the following experiment conducted by Bruce Hughes, director of malicious-code research at TruSecure Corp.’s ICSA Labs. He set up a crawler program on Kazaa and other peer-to-peer networks, scanning for popular file types using keywords such as sex and antivirus. Hughes says 45% of the files he downloaded contained malicious applications. “If you’re downloading files from these networks, you’re going to get infected with something,” he warns.

Almost all the big attacks last year were aimed at Microsoft PC and server software. This year, new threats will appear aimed at emerging operating systems and devices, such as Linux, handheld devices, and smart cell phones. “We’ll see a cell-phone virus. It’s almost a certainty,” says David Perry, global director of education for antivirus and content security firm Trend Micro Inc. “We’ll also probably see a virus designed to spread over wireless LANs. We just don’t know when; it could be this year or it could be five years.”

Linux is more susceptible to attack because it offers increased functionality and more users are using a graphical interface such as Lindows, which makes Linux easier to run, says TruSecure’s Hughes.

Still, most experts agree that Microsoft will remain the target of choice for worm and virus writers, at least for the short term, because of its market dominance. Microsoft and other software vendors have been devoting much time and effort to reducing the number of flaws in their code. But that won’t eliminate the software vulnerabilities that make it easier for hackers and virus writers to attack. CERT says that more than 4,000 software vulnerabilities were reported in 2002 and nearly 3,000 were reported in the first three quarters of 2003. Security experts expect that reported software vulnerabilities will continue to number between 50 and 60 each week.

The real issue isn’t the number of vulnerabilities reported, but the severity of the security flaws. The vulnerabilities discovered last year and expected this year are increasing in severity, says Symantec’s Weafer, who expects that trend to continue. About 80% of all software vulnerabilities are “remotely exploitable,” which means virus and worm writers can write malicious apps that can attack these flaws from anywhere, he says.

“Security Threats Won’t Let Up; Attacks on business networks are expected to grow As use of spyware increases. The good news? As risk increases, companies are paying attention.” InformationWeek 5 Jan. 2004.