Malware writers becoming "more professional"

Sasser-style outbreaks unlikely to reappear as hackers try to slip under anti-virus radar

Malware writers are going to become more professional in 2007 and mass virus outbreaks will be a thing of the past, an anti-virus expert predicts.

Dave Marcus, security research manager at anti-virus firm McAfee's Avert research labs said that the industry is seeing evidence of the rise of professional and organised crime in malware creation, "where development teams are creating malicious software, testing it and automating its production and release."

He said that 35 per cent of all malware samples ever discovered had been collected in the last two years alone.

"This speaks volumes about what malware writers are up to. There are hardly any mass outbreaks, such as Sasser, anymore," said Marcus. "These cause too much attention. Malware has simply become a way to make money. It has taken virus authors in a different direction."

He also said there would be a big change in the way botnets operated. Traditionally, botnets have worked through compromised computers receiving commands via ICQ. But Marcus said that botmasters are starting to use instant messaging applications and peer to peer networks to propagate and control bots.

"Mules" will also continue to be an important part of bot-related money making schemes. These are work-at-home type jobs which are offered through very professional-looking websites, through classified ads, and even through instant messaging.

"These are a crucial part of the reason so many bots are able to be run from places around the globe," said Marcus. "In order to get merchandise, often to resell, or cash with stolen credit card credentials, the thieves have to go through more strict regulations if the goods are going to another country. To get around these regulations, they use mules within those originating countries."

Marcus said the upcoming launch of Windows Vista will have a short term impact on the amount of malware as hackers get to grips with the new operating system.

"When it is [Vista] launched, they will be trying to figure out how it all works, but in the long term they will find a way to subvert the OS. People at Blackhat and Defcon confererences have shown that the research is already out there," said Marcus.

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