The increasing popularity of online social networking has opened up new avenues for cyber criminals. In the last few months, one must have witnessed repeated attacks on highly popular social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Though these attacks may be first encounter with cyber criminals, for millions of users, the trend of attacking social networking sites is not a new one.

It has, however, grown to become the most obvious choice for attackers due to numerous reasons, says Ratnamala Dam Manna, Director, Security Technology and Response, Symantec. For starters, these social networking pages are easy for criminals to spoof and since they are generally trusted by users. Profiles on social networking sites often contain a significant amount of personal information about the user. Also, spoofed social networking pages can include links to false download that require users to enter confidential data such as authentication information or credit card information that can subsequently be used for fraudulent purposes.

Customisation

Ms. Dam Manna said in a recent report by Symantec Corporation that social networking sites, in fact, topped the list when it came to phishing attacks in most countries. Phishing is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as user names, passwords and credit card details. The biggest advantage of social networking sites for spammers is the fact that they provide users with a wide variety of customisation options and third party applications. Users can customise details in their profile, include links to other sites and upload images.

Over the past year, Symantec observed a 192 per cent increase in spam detected across the Internet, from 119.6 billion messages in 2007 to 349.6 billion in 2008. According to the Internet Security Threat Report XIV, 29 per cent of all spam originated in the U.S. in 2008. The reason is that the U.S. has the second highest number of broadband Internet users in the world. This allows spammers to send out high volumes of spam at any time of the day. Russia was ranked number two for originating spam in 2008, with 6 per cent.

Festive targets

Ms. Dam Manna says India is definitely one of the top targets for spammers. The penetration is increasing over the years. In fact, Symantec has recently discovered a malicious campaign centred on Diwali that entices users into opening spam messages. While spammers traditionally used global festivals such as Christmas and New Year, this year, they turned their attention specifically to an Indian festival.

Unfortunately, spam is not just an irritant, but also a method of delivering dangerous malware into an unwary and unprotected user’s machine, she said.

India is becoming a significant region from where spam originates. Twelve per cent of the spam detected in the Asia Pacific region in 2008 originated in India, making it the third-ranked country for this category.

Malicious activity

Due to a rapidly growing Internet infrastructure, a burgeoning broadband population and rampant software piracy, India is expected to witness increased malicious activities. According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report XIV, India saw a substantial increase in its proportion of malicious activity in almost every category. It had the fifth highest number of broadband subscribers in the Asia Pacific region in 2008 and the third highest volume of malicious activity, 10 per cent of the regional total.

Among the cities in India with the highest number of bot-infected computers, Mumbai figured at the top with 37 per cent followed by Chennai at 24 per cent and Delhi at 7 per cent. Cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Surat, Ahmedabad, Kochi and Pune too had a sizable share of bot-infected computers.

Another alarming trend for Internet users in India is the threat landscape being heavily infested with worms and viruses.

In the Asia Pacific region, India ranked first on worms and viruses attacks prevalence chart. Nine of the top 10 malcodes found in India consisted of worms (55 per cent) and viruses (15 per cent) that disabled security related processes, downloaded additional threats and stole confidential information.

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