HUA HIN, Thailand - Security company Symantec has revealed disturbing
statistics about malware and the prevalence of web-based threats. The company's
annual threat analysis warns of increased attacks being made via social
networks and mobile phones; Twitter, Facebook and Google's Android were all
named as vulnerable.
URL shortening services such as bit.ly, which convert long web addresses into
short ones for use on sites such as Twitter, have been exploited at an
unprecedented rate since the user cannot determine what the destination website
is when the link is in this format. Around 65% of malware links on social
websites were found to be using shortened URLs. Malicious websites now occupy
more cyberspace than ever before, according to
Symantec; 49% of them were found through pornographic sites.
Facebook has also been hammered with rogue applications, which are more likely
to be clicked if they are sent to users by their "friends", the nature of such
a network and the often obliviousness of its users just invites cyber-crime.
Social engineering scams have been on the increase since they can be written to
appear to be targeted to an individual, especially if they appear to originate
from someone in the individual's contacts list.
Android suffered its first trojan in 2010 and hackers appear to view the
platform as "open season" for attacks; over 50 malicious apps were pulled from
Android Market last month. Apple's iPhone is also not immune, especially if it
has been "jailbroken" from the clutches of its creators.
Smart-phones are golden to cyber-criminals since they are packed full of
personal information and offer ever-increasing ways to connect to web services
Symantec also reported an increase in targeted attacks against specific
companies, organizations, government agencies or individuals. The big daddy of
these was the Stuxnet worm designed to take control of mechanical systems in an
Iranian nuclear power plant (see
Stuxnet raises virus stake, Asia Times Online, October 2, 2010).
Part of the catalyst to this surge in cyber attacks has been the increased
availability of attack-toolkits, which are small software packages that allow
people with relatively little skill to design their own malware. They can be
purchased online from a few dollars to thousands for more sophisticated ones;
the most popular is Phoenix, which can be programmed to exploit vulnerabilities
in Java, a programming language commonly used for Internet applications.
Web-based attacks in 2010 were up 93% from 2009, with over 3 billion of them
being recorded from 286 million malware variants. Software flaws were also
higher than ever with 6,253 vulnerabilities reported throughout the year. All
operating systems and browsers are affected, though some to a greater degree
Despite the security vulnerabilities mentioned above, Google's Android keeps
going from strength to strength in the mobile market place. Research firm
ComScore reports that between November 2010 and February 2011 Android's US
market share jumped to 33% from 26%. Most of that market share was at the
expense of Research In Motion whose BlackBerry device dropped in usage from
33.5% to 28.9%.
Microsoft also lost with a 1.3% drop from 9% to 7.7% despite the launch of its
new mobile operating system Windows Phone 7 last year. Apple's growth for the
three-month period has stagnated, with only a 0.2% rise to 25.2% in the US.
The key to Android's success it likely to be tied to the fact that so many
different handsets from different manufacturers are available for it. It seems
like a new one hits the shelves every week from the likes of Samsung, LG, HTC,
Motorola and Sony Ericsson. Rival companies that want to conquer the market
with one device and very little choice are going to have a tough time competing
with that lineup.
In the handset manufacturer race (for all phones, not just smart ones) for the
same period, Samsung sits at the top of the pile with 24.8% of the US market
claiming to own one of the company's devices. According to ComScore LG takes
second spot with 20.9% followed by Motorola at 16.1%, RIM and Apple follow up
the pack with 8.6% and 7.5% respectively.
Chipmaker Intel has already won the race to 32 nanometer manufacturing, but
rival company AMD has just crossed the line and is now producing 32nm quad-core
A-series chips dubbed Llano. The announcement came this week as AMD prepares to
ship desktop and laptop computers with more energy-efficient multi-core
The 32 nanometer manufacturing process means that more cores can be squeezed
onto the chip with better energy efficiency. Intel made the jump last year and
has dominated the market with their Core i3, i5 and i7 processor range. AMD,
which has always been known as the underdog in the processor battle, has fought
back, albeit a little later than expected, with its latest range of microchips.
AMD's Fusion line for high-end processing has been a big hit for the innovative
integration of graphics processing units into the platform. If the company can
convince enough big name original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to adopt the
new Llano chips, Intel will have to work a little faster to get its
experimental next generation 22 nanometer line into production at a competitive
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.