Breaking News—IBM Reports Corporations’ Inadvertent Security Threats to Their Own Customers

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IBM announced today results from its annual 2008 "X-Force Trend and Risk" report, which found that corporations are unwittingly putting their own customers at risk for cybercriminal activity. With an alarming increase in attacks using legitimate business sites as launching pads for attacks against consumers, cybercriminals are literally turning businesses against their own customers in the ongoing effort to steal consumers' personal data, the study reveals.

The report also reveals that 2008 was the busiest year for discovering vulnerabilities, with a 13% increase over 2007. In addition, by the end of 2008, 53% of all vulnerabilities disclosed during the year had no vendor-supplied patches. Further, 46% of vulnerabilities from 2006 and 44% from 2007 were still left with no available patch at the end of 2008.

The new X-Force report identifies two main trends from 2008 that show how criminals are targeting the masses through website attacks. First, websites have become the Achilles' heel for corporate IT security. Attackers are intensely focused on attacking web applications so they can infect end-user machines. Meanwhile, corporations are using off-the-shelf applications that are riddled with vulnerabilities or even worse, custom applications that can host numerous unknown vulnerabilities that can't be patched. Last year more than half of all vulnerabilities disclosed were related to web applications, and of these, more than 74% had no patch. Thus, the large scale, automated SQL injection vulnerabilities that emerged in early 2008 have continued unabated. By the end of 2008, the volume of attacks jumped to 30 times the number of attacks initially seen this summer.

"The purpose of these automated attacks is to deceive and redirect web surfers to web browser exploit toolkits," said Kris Lamb, senior operations manager for X-Force Research and Development for IBM Internet Security Systems. "This is one of the oldest forms of mass attack still in existence today. It is staggering that we still see SQL injection attacks in widespread use without adequate patching almost 10 years after they were first disclosed. Cybercriminals target businesses because they provide an easy target to launch attacks against anyone that visits the web."

The second major trend IBM X-Force revealed is that although attackers continue to focus on the browser and ActiveX controls as a way to compromise end-user machines, they are turning their focus to incorporate new types of exploits that link to malicious movies (for example, Flash) and documents (for example, PDFs). In the fourth quarter of 2008 alone, IBM X-Force traced more than a 50% increase in the number of malicious URLs hosting exploits than were found in all of 2007. Even spammers are turning to known web sites for expanded reach. The technique of hosting spam messages on popular blogs and news-related websites more than doubled in the second half of this year.

IBM advocates that businesses protect their intellectual property and customer data through layered, pre-emptive security. IBM Internet Security Systems develops market-leading products and services to help clients combat the evolving threat while reducing the cost and complexity of security. Later this week, IBM says it will also unveil new Rational software that helps clients mitigate growing risks on the web.

IBM's X-Force team has been cataloging, analyzing and researching vulnerability disclosures since 1997. For more information, visit the IBM website.