Up next: Cellular botnets, cyber militias

More troubles ahead to keep security pros up at night

The ability of malware writers to consistently stay ahead of those seeking to stop them has been a constant factor in the security industry over the past several years.

Looking to 2009, don't expect that situation to change, security analysts and vendors concede glumly. In fact, with cybercrime getting more organized and as more money is poured into malware development, it will be a challenge to stop cybercrooks from pulling even further ahead, according to the authors of a report on emerging cyberthreats for 2009 and beyond.

The report was released last week by the Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) and looks at the threats that security managers are likely to confront next year and how to deal with them.

For the most part, the threats are not unexpected or especially new. What's different is the increasing sophistication and refinement that malware writers are adding to their tools and attack techniques. Among the emerging threats identified in the report are the following:

Bugs and botnets in the mobile world

The features built into smart phones, such as Apple's iPhone, RIM's Blackberry, Google's Android and Windows-enabled mobile devices are making them increasingly computer-like in their functionality. And therein lies a security problem.

The more the systems emulate traditional PCs and notebooks, the more prone they are to the security risks that have bedeviled the computer industry for years, said Patrick Traynor, an assistant professor in the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech and a GTISC member.

A user surfing the Web using an unprotected smart phone will, in the not-too-distant future, be just as likely to catch a nasty bug as a user doing so with a PC today, Traynor said. Malware writers will need to first re-architect and retool their products to get them to run in a mobile environment. As more people begin using smart phones to transact business and to store personal identity information and credit card numbers, the mobile device category as a whole becomes a lot more attractive for cyberthieves. This is especially so because mobile devices are relatively less-protected than PC environments.

Expect to see attackers attempting to inject malware into mobile phones to turn them into remote-controlled bots, Traynor said. Such bots can then be used to deliver spam, steal data, or launch distributed denial-of-service attacks that can cripple mobile-phone networks, Traynor said.

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