Since 2010 we’ve seen a new type of malware rapidly evolving and making the headlines in security news magazines around the world. Traditional Trojans, viruses, spyware and computer worms can be viewed as mere tools in petty theft crimes, in comparison with cyberwarfare weapons like Stuxnet.
Although these malicious programs have affected the internet security of thousands of web users around the world, it seems that the Middle East is the preferred target of cyber-attackers. In late 2011 and the first half of 2012, security experts have been buzzing with news and discoveries of new malware strains used in attacks over the energy and banking sectors of countries in this region.
New standards for malware sophistication and scope
Malware complexity has reached an all-time high and malware attacks can now be easily targeted at specific countries, companies or individuals. They can be used as weapons in cyber-warfare and hacktivism.
Here’s an overview of the most sophisticated, recently discovered internet security threats:
Stuxnet. Discovered in June 2010, Stuxnet is a highly sophisticated computer worm developed to spy on and sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Although the worm was supposed to remain secret and infect only computers in Iran’s infrastructure, an error in its code made it possible for it to go wild on the internet and replicate itself on computers and systems around the world. With a code 50 times as big as the typical computer worm, Stuxnet is the first such Windows-based malware discovered to spy on and subvert industrial systems.
Duqu. Also a dangerous computer worm, Duqu was discovered in September 2011, spreading in the form of a Word document via e-mail. Since then, new, more targeted variants of it have been discovered in several countries around the world, including Iran. Its main capabilities are capturing keystrokes and stealing system information. Due to similarities in code, Duqu and Stuxnet are said to be related.
Flame. Of an even bigger complexity than Stuxnet’s, the Flame malware was identified by internet security experts in May 2012. It was found on Windows computers belonging to governmental organizations, educational institutions and private individuals in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Flame can spread via USB sticks or local networks, and record audio files, Skype conversations, keyboard activity, network traffic and more, but doesn’t actually damage systems. As such, it is believed to be more of a cyber-espionage tool.
Gauss. In July 2012, internet security experts found Gauss ravaging through Windows computers in the Middle East, mainly Lebanon. Showing similarities with Flame, this piece of malware is considered a cyber-espionage tool, as well. Its main capability is stealing cookies, browser history and login credentials for online banking and payment accounts, as well as for social networking and e-mail accounts.
Shamoon. In mid-August 2012, experts made public the existence of yet another possible cyber-weapon: Shamoon. However, this virus is not believed to be state-sponsored, but more of a tool used by hacktivists to protest against tyranny and oppression in the Middle East; the primary targets were state companies from the energy sector. Shamoon has computer data-wiping capabilities and can spread to computers of the same network, including those that are not connected to the internet.
Prevention is better than cure. We can’t stop preaching about it
While the heavily targeted region for these attacks was the Middle East, other countries have also been affected, including the US, India and European countries. And even if many of these attacks were aimed at sabotaging industrial activities, private individuals have also fallen victim. Which is why states, companies and individuals alike have to make sure they always have proper internet security in place. Now, surely, states and companies have experts to look after their internet security. But what can you do to look after yours?
Here’s some internet security advice:
- Always stay informed about new malware and online dangers. If you have at least one internet-connected device, then make sure you know all the threats you’re up against when you go online.
- Keep your operating system and computer programs up to date, because software vulnerabilities can easily be exploited by malware and hackers. A Vulnerability Scanner, like the one in BullGuard Internet Security 2013, may come in handy to spot any outdated software and find updates for it.
- Last, but not least, get proper antivirus protection for your computer, just like the one provided by BullGuard’s internet security software, to prevent all types of malware from infecting it. BullGuard Internet Security 2013 comes with a multi-layered protection system that virtually impenetrable and several other security features to keep you safe at all times.