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Aug 8th


Past and Present Security Threats: A Decade of Malware Evolution

Since 2002, the only thing appealing about computer malware and viruses has been the fun little names that we call them. They come in all varieties from Zlob Trojan, Storm Worm and Spyware. These names give the act of hacking a brand resonance to make Madison Avenue jealous and tend to mask the destructive intent of these intrusive programs and software.

Threats a Decade Ago

"In 2002, PCs didn't come with a GPS," said Kevin Haley, director of Security, Technology and Response (STAR) for Norton by Symantec. "The ability to use a mobile phone to spy on people is immense. In 2002, consumers did not have the choice of applications they have now or the various methods to purchase them. Software was bought in a box."

The landscape for hackers 10 years ago was straightforward with hardly any moving targets, and fewer devices to pilfer. A Pew Center study found that 39 million homes still used a dial-up connection and the rest were using broadband based connections that ran through cable and phone line connections. The Simile virus first made an appearance in March 2002. Despite it complex nature and ability to replicate itself, it did no more damage than to have your files display random messages on random dates.

Additionally, Adrian Lamo made national news when he hacked the New York Times 10 years ago, gaining access to various databases, including the database for the financial relationships with famous op-ed writers including actor and director Robert Redford. Lamo used his access to list his own name in the experts section with his expertise listed as "Computer hacking, national security, communications intelligence" -- cute and very quaint.

Today's Threats...

Fast forward 10 years later, and the threats to personal information on PCs have evolved and become more sinister. Mobile devices, tablets and smartphones, are as prevalent and vulnerable as desktop and laptop computers. Businesses are spending an estimated $61 billion for IT security with good reason.

"Over the past decade, we've seen an increase in the rise of the professionalization of malware," said Haley. "The move to for-profit malware drove the creation of a system that finally supports cybercriminals. These criminals can essentially shop the pieces they need from underground black markets to put together a cybercrime kit. Specialization and the easy availability of tools are responsible for the incredible growth of malware and cybercrime."

The Flame virus targeted the nuclear facilities of Iran. This trojan was designed to extract computer display information and stored files, then communicate the information back to another source. The Shamoon or Disstrack virus goes right for the jugular. Once it has infected a system, the Shamoon overwrites the Master Boot Record (MBR) which makes the computer inoperable to whatever tasks the computer was overseeing. According to Symantec, this virus has already attacked a business in the energy sector.

The end goal and intent of hacking has evolved exponentially in the last decade. The group Anonymous dominates the landscape for the scope and scale of hacking in the present. Their efforts over the last couple of years have exposed U.S. military and intelligence secrets, the financial records of corporations and personal dealings of millions of individuals. Even with their leader, Julian Assange, wanted for criminal charges in Sweden and Great Britain, hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the group has still confiscated and distributed sensitive information.

Today's threats are a huge leap from hackers listing themselves as experts in the New York Times. To better protect yourself from harmful attacks, it is important to have the right and enough coverage. Just having an anti-virus solution these days is not enough.

AOL's Lifestore offers computer security solutions and more.