Sophos: Social engineering on the rise

Humans remain the weakest link when it comes to IT security

Whether as home users or office workers, humans remain the weakest link when it comes to IT security. Sophos expects hackers to exploit this fact and predicts social engineering to rise in 2007.

"The biggest problem in 2006 was not how we upgrade an OS (operating system) or browsers, but how we upgrade people's brains -- their knowledge in computing," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for security solutions provider Sophos during a recent briefing here.

Cluley said this applies not only to home users but also for business users, such that even when people are hit badly or have come across various kind of 'malware' already, they still have the tendency to be careless in what they click on or download from the Internet.

Social engineering has become a household term for quite some time already as hackers and spammers have increasingly used creative means to build on human vulnerability through appealing to the emotion or picking their curiosity enticing them to click on links, download stuff, or give out vital information, which then contains malicious programs that steals information and gives hackers access to users' emails and online bank accounts.

"The problem really is how we could get the users to act sensibly and think before they click; it's not something that technology can solve," Cluley said.

He said further that "computer common sense" does not seem to be very common after all. This is, however, understandable because PCs are very complicated especially for the home users, he noted.

More focused

One trend that Sophos has observed of late is that attacks are becoming more focused.

In China, for example, more than 50 percent of computer malware is designed to steal passwords mostly for online games. In Brazil, on the other hand, 78 percent is designed to steal banking passwords or 'phishing.'

Sophos says it has detected a rise in Christmas-related spam.

A very recent spam email the company detected contains links to pornographic videos, which prompts Mozilla Firefox users to switch to Microsoft Internet Explorer then, once the user clicks on the link, a Trojan horse is loaded onto the PC, taking advantage of an IE vulnerability.

"Social engineering is really a technique that will work for a very long time against people; it will always be a problem all we can do is educate and raise awareness on security issues," Cluley said.

He added that more spammers and hackers are increasingly doing it for profit and not merely as a hobby or in order to gain notoriety because "people realize it's a physically easier task than robbing a bank."

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