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2004: A Year of Phishing and Netsky Attacks

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This was a turbulent year of viruses, phishing attacks and bank-robbingTrojans. And it was a lot for IT and security managers to have to sufferthrough.

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

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

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

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

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

''Certainly, you had to make sure your procedures and policies were inplace and update your anti-virus software because new viruses were comingout all the time,'' says Cluley. ''Virus writers have been really nasty.In the past, most virus writers were teenage boys pulling pranks. Theywere 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 lesspleasant, because there's money involved. Now we see viruses trying tosteal money or they're trying to use your computer to send spam or tophish from you. We fully expect that to continue and escalate into2005.''

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

But arrests also were big in '04.

''Yes, it's been a bad year in terms of the number of viruses,'' saysCluley. ''But we've caught more virus writers than ever before. We'veseen dozens of virus writers, hackers and phishers arrested in the last12 months. And we've got some big court cases coming up.''

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

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