Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) announced on Wednesday it has released the sixth volume of its Microsoft Security Intelligence Report, which showed a significant rise in rogue security software.
Other key findings include evidence that threats are normally targeting common third-party desktop applications, while lost and stolen computer equipment continues to be the top reason for data breaches.
The report, which is published twice a year, is based on data gathered from millions of computers around the world to provide an "in-depth snapshot of the threat landscape," says Microsoft.
In the latest volume of the report covered the second half of 2008, Microsoft offers greater insight about threats by introducing new data on document file format attacks, the differences in malware affecting home and business computers, and phishing.
Rogue security software, or "scareware," dupes victims into paying for fraudulent anti-virus software that secretly installs malware onto their computers and steals their personal information.
The software is seen as one of the top threats around the world. Two rogue families in particular, Win32/FakeXPA and Win32/FakeSecSen, were found on more than 1.5 million computers by Microsoft software, to place them among the top 10 threats in the second half of the year.
Another rogue software, Win32/Renos, was detected on 4.4 million unique computers, showing an increase of 66.6 percent over the first half of 2008.
These rogue security software have the potential to compromise an individual's privacy by stealing personal information and funds from bank accounts, or by infecting computers and reducing a businesses' productivity.
"We continue to see an increase in the number of threats and complexity of those threats designed to implement crime at a variety of levels online," says Vinny Gullotto, general manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center. "But as Microsoft and the industry continue to improve the security of our products and people become more concerned about their online safety and privacy, we see cybercriminals increasingly going after vulnerabilities in human nature rather than software. By working with others across the industry, Microsoft is helping combat the next generation of online threats through a community-based defense resulting from broad industry cooperation with law enforcement and the public."
On a positive note, software companies have improved the security of their operating systems.
As a result, attackers are turning to the application layer, where most vulnerabilities are now being reported. In fact, nearly 90 percent of vulnerabilities disclosed in the second half of 2008 were found in applications.
The findings also showed that Microsoft continues to make significant progress in secure software development and that newer versions of Microsoft software are more secure than previous versions.
But despite the high number of computer hacking cases, it was lost and stolen equipment that accounted for 50 percent of reported security breaches resulting in data loss, according to the report's findings.
The report recommends that organizations adopt strong data governance practices to help protect data from criminal access, as well as the technology industry, law enforcement and policy makers to continue to work together to brainstorm new methods of protecting data.
In February, Microsoft joined a group of academic and Internet community leaders to develop a "coordinated global response" to the Conficker worm and botnet, which infected as many as 15 million PCs.