U.S.-based servers host majority of malicious code, study finds

One reason: Free Web hosting servers are readily available

Forget China, Russia or eastern European countries. When it comes to malicious code, U.S.-based servers host an overwhelming majority of it, according to security vendor Finjan Inc.

That conclusion is based on an analysis of more than 10 million URLs collected from live end-user traffic in the U.K using Finjan's content inspection engines, said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer Finjan. Unlike some other studies, which look at domain names to make assumptions on where a server is based, Finjan's research tracked each IP address to its exact geographical location, Ben-Itzhak said.

"Most people think of Russia and China when you talk about malicious code," he said. "However, it appears this fact is no longer valid. What we found was that about 80% of the malicious code comes from servers hosted in the U.S."

The other top countries hosting malicious code are the U.K., with 10%, and Canada, Germany and Italy, Ben-Itzhak said. "The results of this study shatter the myth that malicious code is primarily being hosted in countries where e-crime laws are less developed," he said.

One of the reasons for the trend could simply be that free Web hosting servers are more readily available in North America and Europe than in some other regions, according to Finjan. That makes it more cost-effective for cybercriminals to host malicious code on servers in those countries. In many cases, malicious code also appears to have been hosted on servers offering legitimate content that were compromised by hackers, the report said.

The Finjan report also notes a continued trend toward the appearance of malicious code on legitimate sites frequented by business users and consumers. Unlike in the past, when most malicious code was found on questionable sites such as those hosting porn, users are now just as likely to get infected when visiting finance and travel sites, for instance.

Advertisements containing malicious code continue to be a growing problem, Ben-Itzhak said. The fact that numerous parties -- ad agencies, affiliate networks and adware makers -- are involved in the delivery chain from advertiser to consumer, makes it an ideal channel to hide spyware and other malware, Ben-Itzhak said.

One recent example was an advertisement for a security program called WinFixer that started appearing on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Live Messenger in February without the company's consent or knowledge. Similarly, last June, malware contained in a banner advertisement on MySpace.com managed to infect about 1 million PCs, the Finjan report noted.

Cybercriminals are also increasingly planting their code in search engine results from Google, Yahoo and MSN, the report warned.

In most cases, the malicious code that is being distributed are botnets and Trojan programs, the Finjan report said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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