2004: A Year of Phishing and Netsky Attacks

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This was a turbulent year of viruses, phishing attacks and bank-robbing Trojans. And it was a lot for IT and security managers to have to suffer through.

This also was the year of the Netsky worm family, according to Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, Inc., an anti-virus and anti-spam company with its U.S. base in Lynnfield, Mass. The Netsky family rampaged through the wild this year, Netsky-P reigning as the most prevalent piece of malware on the Internet from the time it first appeared in March to this month.

''Netsky-P was first seen way back in March, and it's still the worst worm out there,'' notes Cluley, adding that Netsky-P is now wrestling with the much younger Sober-I for the very top spot. ''It's still accounting for 23 percent of all the viruses being reported to us around the globe... It's extraordinary that it's still causing a lot of problems seven or eight months after it came out.''

According to Sophos analysts, Netsky-P was the most prevalent malware of the year, accounting for 22.6 percent of all the malware traveling the Internet. Zafi-B came in second with 18.8 percent; the Sasser worm came in third with 14.2 percent; Netsky-B was in fourth place with 7.4 percent, and Netsky-D with 6.1 percent.

''2004 was the year of the Netsky -- the first of more than 30 versions of this worm arrived on the scene in February and an astonishing five variants have made it into the annual top 10," says Cluley. ''A German teenager called Sven Jaschan is responsible for more than 50 percent of all the virus incidents reported in 2004.''

This also was the year of the virus. Cluley points out that there have been 51.8 percent more new viruses written this year than in 2003. Last year, virus writers produced 7,064 new viruses. This year, 10,724 new viruses hit the wild.

''Certainly, you had to make sure your procedures and policies were in place and update your anti-virus software because new viruses were coming out all the time,'' says Cluley. ''Virus writers have been really nasty. In the past, most virus writers were teenage boys pulling pranks. They were showing off to their mates. It was all about mischief and nuisance.

''Now we're seeing the commercial world enter virus writing,'' he adds. ''When business and criminal gangs get involved, it gets a lot less pleasant, because there's money involved. Now we see viruses trying to steal money or they're trying to use your computer to send spam or to phish from you. We fully expect that to continue and escalate into 2005.''

And Cluley says it's the variety of virus types and the variety of attacks that makes 2004 stand out. Phishing was big in '04, as was taking over computers and using them as zombie machines to ship out spam or denial-of-service attacks. Spyware and adware gained ground in '04, and the banking Trojans hit hard first in Brazil and then moving to Europe and North America.

But arrests also were big in '04.

''Yes, it's been a bad year in terms of the number of viruses,'' says Cluley. ''But we've caught more virus writers than ever before. We've seen dozens of virus writers, hackers and phishers arrested in the last 12 months. And we've got some big court cases coming up.''

Cluley points out that authorities have apprehended the self-confessed author of the Netsky and Sasser worms; the author of the Blaster worm; several alleged spammers, including Jeffrey Jaynes; Nick Marinellis, an alleged phisher from Australia, and 50 other phishers from Brazil.

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