By Thomas Claburn
February 7, 2008
By the end of 2008, McAfee Avert Labs predicts it will have identified
some 550,000 malicious programs, a 54% increase from 2007. With all the
new malware emerging, we can expect new terminology to describe these
constantly morphing threats. Here, then, is our only slightly
tongue-in-check attempt to predict some of the rising threats in 2008
and the language that may be employed to describe those threats.
With 38,500 mentions in Google, "badvertising" already has more of a
following than a word like "malcode." The phenomenon it describes,
advertising with malice, has been around for several years at least. To
date, it has been enough to refer to criminal advertising using terms
like "spam," "adware," and "spyware."
The trouble with these terns is that they can be used to refer to legal
software or activities. Spam, of course, is permitted under the CAN SPAM
Act of 2003. Adware and spyware, meanwhile, can perform their functions
legally with user notice and consent (at least until the notice and
consent is successfully challenged in court as inadequate).
While "crimeware" is becoming a popular term in lieu of the more fuzzily
defined "spyware," "badversting" has an appealing specificity.
"Crimeware" after all could refer not just to software but to hardware,
like an ice pick. What "badvertising" recognizes is that not all
advertising is good.
In 2008, we'll need the word because online advertising will become a
major security problem. Indeed it is already: about 80% of malicious
code online comes from online ads, according to the Q1 2007 Web Trends
Security Report published by Finjan, a computer security company. Watch
what happens when AdBlock Plus gets re-branded AdBlock Security.
We may also see "adsploit" emerge to refer to exploits delivered over ad
networks. Admittedly, the term has a long way to go, with a mere four
mentions in Google, none of which seem particularly coherent. But what
better word is there to refer to malware like Trojan.Qhost.WU, which
replaces Google AdSense text ads with ads from an unauthorized,
potentially malicious provider.
Indexically Transmissible Viruses
Cyber criminals are working overtime to get their sites listed in search
indexes. Gaming Google's PageRank algorithm to get one's malware site
prominent placement on a search result page has proven to be an
effective way to compromise the computers of unwary visitors. Google and
the rest are fighting back, as suggests Google's purge of tens of
thousands of malware-riddled pages from its index in late November. But
the ease and speed with which new sites can be created means that the
search companies have a hard time keeping up. Referring to "indexically
transmissible viruses" seems like a way to blame search engines more and
cyber criminals less, but that's the point: searching needs to be safe.
"SEO poisoning" and "spamdexing" are both serviceable terms to describe
this phenomenon. But few outside the tech and media industries know that
SEO stands for search engine optimization, and spamdexing, after more
than a decade of use, remains hobbled by legal tolerance for spamming
and near universal desire among Web site owners for the benefits of
spamdexing, namely better PageRank. Warning that a search site contains
"indexically transmissible viruses" seems likely to elicit more caution
from searchers, and more action from search engines, than those two
older terms of art.
Though the term, with 19,000 entries on Google, is the name of a cookie
company, it might well be employed in the tech industry to refer to the
misuse of Internet cookies, which are files that Web sites deposit on
visitors' computers to identify them and to provide services.
Snookies, which stands for sneaky cookies, or subdomain cookies if you
prefer something less pejorative, look like they're coming the Web
domain of the site visited, but the subdomain they come from --
subdomain.domain.com, for example -- is set to point to a third-party
server. The reason this is done is to avoid being blocked by users who
have their Web browsers set to reject cookies from third-party sites.
A term that parodied the social networking craze could see further
straight-faced use as cyber criminals step up efforts to pillage
personal information from the likes of Facebook, MySpace, and Orkut.
Google squashed the Orkut worm that emerged in December quite quickly
but it's a safe bet that schemes to steal social networking data will
become more common.
The abuse of one's social graph -- as Facebook calls its friend list --
for material gain. This could be used to describe the use of Facebook's
Beacon technology as well as outright efforts at identity theft or
related fraud. The term just begs to be used as a variation on the
Google Social Graph API; calling it the Social Graft API seems to
capture the spirit of exploiting one's friends.
When you phish for big fish, you're whaling. Alan Paller at the SANS
Institute uses the term to refer to targeting phishing attacks directed
at high-profile individuals. While it may be unnecessary, given that
spear-phishing adequately communicates that the attack in question was
targeted, the exclusivity of the term -- not just anyone can be the
victim of whaling -- suggests it may prosper among journalists
determined to subtly flatter, or apologize to, VIP subjects featured in
security breach stories. Even if the term dies as a result of being
unnecessary, the trend of trying to trick high-value targets into giving
up the keys to the kingdom is sure to increase. Lieware
In 2007, there was a lot of "rogue anti-virus software," which is
sometimes also referred to as "fake anti-virus software." But these
terms are confusing because there's too much negation going on. Fake
anti-virus software is not anti-virus software at all. So what is it?
"Lieware" is a much less unwieldy term to describe software that
purports to be something that it isn't. With only 420 mentions in
Google, the term has nowhere near the recognition of "adware" or
"spyware." But thanks to the growing need for anti-virus products, we're
sure to see more lieware trying to trick its way onto our systems.
Spham or Spamble
Security researchers foresee a rise in spam targeting mobile devices,
particularly via SMS. Although the unappealing term "blogging" has given
rise to the even more unappealing "moblogging" (blogging on a mobile
device), "mospam" just doesn't work. While some have proposed "spamble"
as shorthand for gambling spam, the term also has potential to suggest
spam received while ambling about with a mobile device. "Spham" offers a
more straightforward way to mix spam and phone, though the fact that it
sounds the same as "spam" when spoken may limit its appeal. (Yes, you
could emphasize the "h" and say "sp-ham," but people would just wonder
whether the cause of your odd pronunciation was contagious.)
Everyone in the computer security business is familiar with backdoors
and backdoor Trojans. In 2008, "backdoor," heretofore an adjective or
noun, has a shot a being promoted, like the word "google," to verb.
Here, in a hypothetical conversation with your company's chief security
officer is how it might be used: "You were backdoored? Has anyone spoken
for your office?" The reason for this is the success of malware like the
Zlob backdoor Trojan, which security researchers expect to see much more
frequently in the year to come.
The patch fix is the patch that fixes the last patch. It may seem
redundant, like "pizza pie," but given the number of patches that create
more problems and subsequently have to be patched, redundancy appears to
be necessary to compensate for the absence of code quality.
Copyright 2007 CMP Media LLC
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