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IBM Report: Software Security Vulnerabilities Will Continue to Rise in 2007


Web Browser Attacks and Image-Based Spam to Become Bigger Problems this Year

ARMONK, NY - 30 Jan 2007: IBM (NYSE:IBM) today announced the highlights of its 2006 security statistics report, which describes key security findings for 2006 and predicts the nature of Internet threats expected to emerge in 2007. Based on early indicators, IBM anticipates a continued rise in the sophistication of profit-motivated cyber attacks, including an increased focus on the Web browser and advances in image-based spam.

According to the report, which was developed by the IBM Internet Security Systems (ISS) X-Force® research and development team, there were 7,247 new vulnerabilities recorded and analyzed by the X-Force in 2006, which equates to an average of 20 new vulnerabilities per day. This total represents a nearly 40 percent increase over what ISS reported in 2005. Over 88 percent of 2006 vulnerabilities could be exploited remotely, and over 50 percent allowed attackers to gain access to a machine after exploitation.

“While these numbers seem grim upon initial review, the good news is our research indicates a drop in the percentage of high-impact vulnerabilities since last year,” said Gunter Ollmann, director of security strategy for IBM Internet Security Systems. “In 2005, high-impact vulnerabilities accounted for about 28 percent of total vulnerabilities, while they only accounted for 18 percent in 2006. The security industry has made great progress over the last year, but despite promising statistics such as this one, we predict that 2007 will require even higher levels of vigilance and innovation to deal with emerging threats and new vectors of attack.”

Attacks on Web browsers are expected to continue rising in 2007, partially as a result of the newly-created “exploits as a service” industry. The sale of exploit material is becoming even more organized and is increasingly taking the shape of the channel sales model used by legitimate corporate entities. Managed exploit providers are purchasing exploit code from the underground, encrypting it so that it cannot be pirated, and selling it for top dollar to spam distributors. The organized development and sale of encrypted exploit code will make signature-based protection even less effective in 2007.

In terms of spam, X-Force predicts a continued sophistication of image-based spam techniques. In 2007, new forms of image-based spam will likely be developed to evade protection solutions that have been created to combat early forms of image-based spam seen in the wild.

This latest report from X-Force also points to new methods being used by attackers to avoid detection by commercial security solutions. In 2006, malware continued to become less distinct in its categorization, instead borrowing characteristics from other successful forms of malware. As such, the classical groups of virus, rootkit, spyware and other categories typically used by the security industry to differentiate standalone protection products will be much less relevant in 2007.

In 2006, X-Force also observed considerable Web browser exploitation and a strong increase in the use of Web exploit obfuscation and encryption to make it difficult for signature-based intrusion detection and prevention products to detect attacks. X-Force data indicates that approximately 50 percent of Web sites hosting exploit material designed to infect browsers now obfuscate, or camouflage, their attack, with approximately 30 percent encrypting their payload.

The X-Force has been cataloguing, analyzing and researching vulnerability disclosures since 1997. With more than 30,000 security vulnerabilities catalogued, it has the largest vulnerability database in the world. This unique database helps X-Force researchers to understand the dynamics that make up vulnerability discovery and disclosure. In addition to the vulnerabilities catalogued in its X-Force database, IBM ISS content filtering services are designed to provide a world-encompassing view of spam and phishing attacks. With millions of e-mail addresses actively monitored, ISS has identified numerous advances in the spam and phishing technologies used by online attackers.

During 2005 and 2006, X-Force data indicates that the use of image-based spam increased rapidly, accounting for more than 40 percent of spam messages at the end of 2006. This issue quickly became one of the biggest challenges in spam-fighting for 2006 since it is difficult for spam blockers that rely on content identification to decode text embedded within images.

The X-Force report also discusses the following key security statistics for 2006, among others:

* Within the last year, the volume of spam has increased by 100 percent over what ISS reported in 2005.
* The U.S., Spain and France are the three largest originators of spam worldwide.
* After English, German is the most popular language in which spam messages are written. (X-Force predicts that as computer users become more savvy at detecting and deleting spam, spammers will increasingly localize their messages in languages other than English to improve the rate at which they are opened.)
* The most popular subject line for spam in 2006 was “Re: hi.”
* South Korea accounts for the highest source of phishing e-mails.
* The largest threat category of malware in 2006 was Downloaders, accounting for 22 percent of all malware. (A Downloader is a piece of low-profile malware that installs itself on machines for the purpose of later downloading a more sophisticated malware agent.)
* The most popular exploit used on the Internet to infect Web browsers with malware was for Microsoft’s MS-ITS vulnerability (MS04-013), disclosed in 2004.
* The busiest month in 2006 for vulnerability disclosure was June, while the busiest week was the week before Thanksgiving and the most popular day of the week to disclose vulnerabilities was Tuesday.

In 2007, IBM also expects to see a continued rise in the total number of vulnerabilities, largely due to the release of new operating systems. While the new operating systems include more security functions than previous versions and have undergone extensive security audits, their sheer complexity will likely introduce new vulnerabilities. In addition, the synchronized release of new and updated third-party products that support new operating systems will likely contribute to a record year for vulnerabilities in 2007.

For more security trends and predictions from IBM, including graphical representations of security statistics, please access the full IBM X-Force 2006 Trend Statistics report at:

About IBM Internet Security Systems

IBM Internet Security Systems is the trusted security advisor to thousands of the world’s leading businesses and governments, providing pre-emptive protection for networks, desktops and servers. An established leader in security since 1994, the IBM Proventia® integrated security platform is designed to automatically protect against both known and unknown threats, helping to keep networks up and running and shielding customers from online attacks before they impact business assets. IBM Internet Security Systems products and services are based on the proactive security intelligence of its X-Force® research and development team – the unequivocal world authority in vulnerability and threat research. The Internet Security Systems product line is also complemented by comprehensive Managed Security Services and Professional Security Services. For more information, visit the Internet Security Systems Web site at or call 800-776-2362.

Internet Security Systems is a trademark and Proventia and X-Force are registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation in the United States, other countries, or both. All other companies and products mentioned are trademarks and property of their respective owners.


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