Cybercriminals are moving away from email attacks and are concentrating on web-based exploits to deliver malware. Email remains a major source of malware, but web-based attacks are now much more prevalent.

Web-Based Exploits Increasingly Used to Deliver Malware

A recent report from Palo Alto Networks showed that out of just over 68,000 malware samples collected, 25% were delivered via email, whereas 68% were delivered during web-browsing. Those figures were for known malware. When it comes to undetected samples, the figures for web-browsing rose to 90% compared to just 2% delivered via email. Undetected malware samples are those which are not detected by traditional anti-malware and anti-virus solutions.

It is easy to see why web-based exploits are being favored by cybercriminals. It takes much longer for web-based exploits to be detected by anti-virus software than email-based attacks. Palo Alto reports that it takes four times as long to detect web-based exploits as it does email-based attacks. Attackers are also able to tweak web-based malware in real-time. Email-based malware needs to be sent out and changes can only be made for each new campaign.

In the case of email-based malware attacks, the malicious software is relatively easy to detect by AV companies. They are able to give each malware sample a signature, which makes it much easier to block attacks. In the case of web-based malware this is a much harder task. The malware can be tweaked in real-time, making it harder for AV companies to capture and create a signature. A web server on which malware is hosted can be configured to re-code the malware automatically and generate many thousands of unique malware. Capturing and adding a signature to each simple takes too long.

There are many methods that can be employed to reduce the risk of malware infections from web browsing, although one of the easiest preventative steps to take is to use a web filtering solution such as WebTitan. WebTitan allows organizations to carefully control the websites that can be accessed by end users.

Palo Alto reported that HTTP proxies were frequently used in malware delivery. The blocking of HTTP proxies and web anonymizers can help to improve security posture and reduce the risk of malware downloads. P2P networks are also commonly used to deliver malware, and these can also be easily blocked with WebTitan web filtering solutions.

Social media websites are a common source of malware infections. A recent survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute revealed that 18% of respondents had experienced a malware attack via social media websites. Blocking access to social media networks, or blocking the file-transfer function of Facebook for example, can help to reduce the risk of malware downloads.

The threat landscape is constantly changing; however, by carefully controlling the actions that can be performed by end users with a web filter, the risk of malware infections can be greatly reduced.