'Conficker is first global epidemic for four years'

Kaspersky tech consultant talks threats on PC and mobile


The Conficker worm outbreak is the first global epidemic for four years, that's according to Kaspersky Senior Technology Consultant David Emm.

Kaspersky popped into the TechRadar offices to talk to us about the latest security threats on the PC - and, interestingly, the increased threat on mobiles, too. However, Emm brought up the subject of Conficker, pointing out that there had been very few global security outbreaks in recent times.

"Conficker is an exception. It's probably the only one over the last four years that you could at all say is a global epidemic."

Emm's comments are interesting, especially as other security industry experts such as Sophos' Graham Cluley have made a point of playing the outbreak down, largely due to intense press hype.

Emm has many years experience in the security industry having previously worked at Dr Solomon's/Network Associates and McAfee, and also spoke to us about the changes in the wider threat landscape:

"People still tend to think about malware, that it's going to do damage. But actually the people writing code now have an interest in everybody's uptime. The last thing they want to do is take a machine down. What they want is to control the machine and use it for one purpose or another."

Emm added that 90 per cent of threats that come into Kaspersky's labs are actually Trojans.

"Typically what [cybercriminals] tended to have done is shifted their focus more to small scale attacks. And I don't mean that millions and millions of computers are not being compromised, what it means though is that they tend to select from the compromised machines for this or that activity," added Emm.

He says that this is drastically different to some of the famous outbreaks earlier in the decade: "In the old days of email worms, [they would] light the blue touchpaper and stand back while it cascades across the internet. And that's really why email worms have faded off the scene."

There's also an increased threat from the Far East and Russia, specifically in terms of botnets: "Many of the banking Trojans come from Latin America, and in Russia they're very definitely focused on botnet technology."

55 per cent of the threats Kaspersky is seeing come from China, and Emm showed us figures indicating the firm is now issuing 5,000 signatures per day and receives over 17,000 threat samples per day.

Mobile threats on the increase

Emm also spoke to us about the increasing security threat caused by the growing use of smartphones. "The threat tends to be mainly nuisance value, with some element of cybercrime creeping in. As businesses rely more and more on mobiles it means that if you lose or mislay it, there could be confidential data on it.

"Protecting data is at least as important as keeping malware off the system. I do think we'll see a small creep towards cybercrime, but it's going to take a while… I don't think it's going to be this year or next year. I think it's going to take a few years, but it may well be different in different markets too. The Far East is more developed, America is less developed than in Europe.

"Also we're not routinely using them [mobiles] for financial transactions. [Japan is] using it more for those sorts of transactions for sure, but in terms of malware it tends to be Russia and the Far East which are being targeted right now," adds Emm.

But Kaspersky has observed some activity increasing already. "Back door activity we're starting to see. What's particularly worrying is that Chinese hackers are starting to get involved, given that they're one of the major sources of malware."

Finally, Emm said he believes those writing malware for mobile would have difficulty choosing what to develop for, given the flux of the industry currently. "If I write some code for Windows [on a PC], I'm going to hit 90 something per cent of people. If I write for Symbian, nobody on Windows Mobile is going to be affected by it. Do I have four streams of development?"


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