Cybercrime evolution in North America and Western Europe

Pierluigi Paganini September 13, 2012

Despite cyber space is known as a domain without border an interesting study of the Kaspersky Security firm demonstrates that cyber criminal activities are mainly located in some area of the planet, as we can see also the victims of the attacks have a geographical features that make them attractive targets.

Factors such as the economic level of a country, its Internet population and the security level of the nation concur to define a geography of attacks. Of course, the “seas full of fish” for cyber criminals are represented by the Western states where user make large use of internet and web services such as banking.

But not all that glitters is gold, these countries present sufficient security mechanisms to defend users and also the computer system used are often equipped with last versions of operating systems  that  incorporate mechanisms to prevent cyber attacks. According the Internet World Stats  the level of Internet penetration in US and Europe is very high, internet users in these areas actively use online services  and cards associated with their banking accounts to pay for goods online:

  • North America — 78.3%, 1st in the world;
  • Europe – 58.3%, 3rd in the world.

Having to deal with advanced and updated defense systems the crime industry is increasing the level of sophistication of attacks developing new technologies, mainly with the principal intent to make money.  The Trojan spread are mainly used with the purpose of deliver or hide malicious agents or to steal sensible information with specific reference to banking sector.

The sector mainly attacked by cybercrime is the financial / banking in which the incidence of theft of information is high, some examples of malware are known to chronicle are Zbot (ZeuS) and SpyEye, both are universal Trojans which targets the accounts of many banks. Also e-pay services such as PayPal and E-bay, let’s remind the usually these accounts are linked to bank accounts and are considered privileged targets,  34% and 9% respectively of all phishing attacks target them.

To contrast the cyber threat banking are introducing new authentication mechanisms to improve security of their customers, some example are authentication tokens and OTP systems … but is some cases they weren’t sufficient and user’s defense was eluded by sophisticated malware.

To have an idea of the of the business and of related profits in 2010 arrested stole $9 million from more than 600 accounts in three months using Zbot. The most effective vector of attacking European and American users is still internet in the first half of 2012, 80% of all infected computers were attacked in this way, Italy and Spain are the most hit countries.

The criminals use to compromise user’s machine in one of the following mode:

  • Infecting legitimate sites
  • Spoofing search engines
  • Spreading malicious spam on social networking sites and on Twitter


 The percentage of users exposed to Internet attacks (H1 2012):

  • USA – 38.8%, 31st in the world;
  • Germany — 28.8%, 101st in the world;
  • UK — 36.8%, 42nd in the world;
  • France – 36.3%, 44th in the world;
  • Italy – 43.5%, 18th in the world;
  • EU – 32.1%.

From the research is emerged also another interesting result, despite in Western Europe, Canada and US there is a strong legal basis for combating malicious content hosted on web site, 69% of infected code was hosted on servers located in these regions in the first half of 2012 corrisponding to over the half of the malicious programs on the Internet.  The figure are not surprising when one considers the majority of data centers providing failsafe hosting are located in these areas and usually cybercriminals and hackers compromise such servers to obtain reliable hosting that host legal sites, making hard their identification from an user’s perspective.

The report reveals that domain zones .net, .com, .info and .org. account for 44.5% of repelled attacks that were launched from malicious web sites on users located in North America and Western Europe.
Users from the US, Canada and Western Europe are typically redirected to sites located in the domain zones of India (.in), Russia (.ru) and the Cocos Islands (co.сс).

The cyber threat botnet is growing creating great concern between security experts due their diffusion, millions of compromised computers connected to the Internet are in fact daily used to realize scam and cyber attacks. Observing the volume of messages exchanged between bots and command server is possible to have an indicator on the level of the threat and its diffusion.

Behind the principal botnets there is the cybercrime industry that is pushing on the diffusion of malware to infect an increasing number of machine, but also proposing new models of business, such as botnet rental or the commerce of the agents for botnet creation.

Of course, a significant factor is the global economic crisis that led to a sensible reduction of private investment in cyber security by exposing users to a growing number of threats.

The number of attacks on computers may increase and also their complexity, we must focus the attention in two area that I believe critical, mobile and social networking, an increasing number of services, banking included, are opening to these platforms that are still unprotected and for which the level of awareness on cyber threat is very poor.

The data proposed provide an interesting analysis on the evolution of the cyber threats in EU and US, a region where very attractive for cybercriminals but that presents difficulties for them due the good level of protection of end users. We must be prepared, it’s question of time, the cybercrime is raising the bar.

Pierluigi Paganini

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