For the last five years, the security threats that plague Windows operating systems have been fairly predictable. Most -- if not all -- of the threats stem from Windows vulnerabilities associated with how the operating system interacts with Internet Explorer and the fact that many users operate with administrator privileges. The genesis of threats like spyware can be traced back to these issues. Microsoft has devoted more energy toward securing Windows with the release of XP SP2 and the anticipated Vista release, but the malicious code writers are stepping up their efforts as well.
There are four key trends surfacing with regard to Windows security threats:
The diversification of spyware -- The general feeling regarding spyware is that it is annoying and often crashes PCs. But spyware is becoming much more dangerous. Many programs like Trojans, keyloggers and system monitors are being integrated into spyware that infects vulnerable PCs in the typical drive-by fashion. And, instead of this spyware affecting PC performance, it lays hidden on the PC -- sometimes with the help of rootkit technology -- and steals information.
The decline of viruses -- Viruses generally exist to cause havoc. But havoc does not have the monetary appeal of other malicious endeavors. Recent studies have pointed to a decline in virus-carrying email and the decline in overall virus threats in April. While viruses are declining, phishing scams are increasing and these are more difficult to control with email filters.
The spread of botnets -- The number of Internet-enabled PCs is growing in some of the biggest populations in the world, namely those in Asia. These PCs, and sometimes servers, are often unpatched and susceptible to takeover by criminals. An army of these slave PCs could create a network of bots that could lead to a revival of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks. Make sure your Web servers are secure.
The criminalization of malware -- Viruses and even botnets target machines, but an increasing amount of malware targets the humans operating the machines. From phishing scams to system monitors and keyloggers embedded in spyware, more malware is focused on making money through theft. Make sure you know how to remove malware when it is discovered.
As new threats emerge, the only course available to administrators is to stay proactive in their approach to security. Focus on patching quickly and efficiently. Test the vulnerability of your systems to be sure you don't have any exploitable vulnerabilities lingering on your network.
Then, let me know which malware threats are concerning you the most.
Benjamin Vigil is the site editor of SearchWindowsSecurity.com