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Most Malware Is Launched From Legit Web Sites

By Gregg Keizer
January 28, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The majority of Web sites serving up attack code are legitimate domains that have been hacked by criminals, according to security research firm Websense Inc.

In a report released last week, San Diego-based Websense said that credible sites accounted for 51% of those classified as malicious. The sites had been compromised by hackers who seeded them with attack code that infected unpatched machines visiting those addresses, it said.

A year earlier, Websense estimated that about 35% of malicious sites were actually legitimate sites that had been compromised.

The remaining deleterious sites were "intentionally built for malicious intent," the Websense report said.

Hacking legitimate sites so that they can sling malware gives attackers distinct advantages, said Dan Hubbard, vice president of security research at Websense. "It's a great vector, because they don't need to drive users to the sites, they get free hosting, and [it's] hard to trace ownership," he said.

"The trend has definitely been accelerating," said John Pescatore, an analyst at Gartner Inc. It has become "harder for criminals to do the more traditional kind of phishing attacks."

He noted that hackers have been aided by "the growth in social networking sites and blogs, where security is just not one of the ingredients. Hackers are saying, 'It's easier to put our malware on these sites than to build our own.'"

Pescatore said the growth of Web 2.0 technologies and mashups "may make this even worse. If I can trick you into mashing up stuff from my sites on yours, then I can put malicious code in your mashups."

He suggested that users install what Gartner calls "Web security gateways," the URL-blocking tools available from security companies. "We're also telling them to turn on the inbound Web filtering that detects malicious code," Pescatore added.

An example of such hacks occurred about a year ago, when the Web sites of the Miami Dolphins football team and Dolphin Stadium, site of the 2007 Super Bowl, were hacked to serve malicious JavaScript code that tried to load a Trojan horse onto unpatched PCs that visited the sites.

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

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