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IBM: Spam down 50%
By Bala Shah

IBM today released the results of its X-Force 2011 Trend and Risk Report, which shows surprising improvements in several areas of Internet security such as a reduction in application security vulnerabilities, exploit code and spam. As a result, the report suggests attackers today are being forced to rethink their tactics by targeting more niche IT loopholes and emerging technologies such as social networks and mobile devices.

The X-Force 2011 Trend and Risk Report revealed a 50 percent decline in spam email compared to 2010; more diligent patching of security vulnerabilities by software vendors, with only 36 percent of software vulnerabilities remaining unpatched in 2011 compared to 43 percent in 2010; and higher quality of software application code, as seen in web-application vulnerabilities called cross site scripting half as likely to exist in clients’ software as they were four years ago. 

In light of these improvements, it seems attackers are adapting their techniques. The report uncovers a rise in emerging attack trends including mobile exploits, automated password guessing, and a surge in phishing attacks. An increase in automated shell command injection attacks against web servers may be a response to successful efforts to close off other kinds of web application vulnerabilities. 

According to the report, there are positive trends as it appears companies implemented better security practices in 2011: 

- Thirty percent decline in the availability of exploit code – When security vulnerabilities are disclosed, exploit code is sometimes released that attackers can download and use to break into computers. Approximately 30 percent fewer exploits were released in 2011 than were seen on average over the past four years. This improvement can be attributed to architectural and procedural changes made by software developers that help make it more difficult for attackers to successfully exploit vulnerabilities. 

- Decrease in unpatched security vulnerabilities – When security vulnerabilities are publicly disclosed, it is important that the responsible software vendor provide a patch or fix in a timely fashion. Some security vulnerabilities are never patched, but the percentage of unpatched vulnerabilities has been decreasing steadily over the past few years. In 2011 this number was down to 36 percent from 43 percent in 2010.

- Fifty percent reduction in cross site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities due to improvements in software quality - The IBM X-Force team is seeing significant improvement in the quality of software produced by organizations that use tools like IBM AppScan OnDemand service to analyze, find, and fix vulnerabilities in their code.  IBM found XSS vulnerabilities are half as likely to exist in customers' software as they were four years ago. However, XSS vulnerabilities still appear in about 40 percent of the applications IBM scans. This is still high for something well understood and able to be addressed.

- Decline in spam – IBM’s global spam email monitoring network has seen about half the volume of spam email in 2011 that was seen in 2010. Some of this decline can be attributed to the take-down of several large spam botnets, which likely hindered spammers’ ability to send emails. The IBM X-Force team witnessed spam evolve through several generations over the past seven years as spam filtering technology has improved and spammers have adapted their techniques in order to successfully reach readers.


(3/23/2012)
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