IT users can expect a continued rise in the sophistication of profit-motivated cyber attacks, including an increased focus on the Web browser and advances in image-based spam. 


This is one of the findings of IBM's 2006 security statistics report, which describes key security findings for 2006 and predicts the nature of Internet threats expected to emerge in 2007
According to the report, which was developed by the IBM Internet Security Systems (ISS) X-Force research and development team, there were 7 247 new vulnerabilities recorded and analysed by the X-Force in 2006, which equates to an average of 20 new vulnerabilities per day.
This total represents a nearly 40% increase over what ISS reported in 2005. More than 88% of 2006 vulnerabilities could be exploited remotely, and more than 50% allowed attackers to gain access to a machine after exploitation.
“While these numbers seem grim upon initial review, the good news is our research indicates a drop in the percentage of high-impact vulnerabilities since last year,” says Gunter Ollmann, director of security strategy for IBM Internet Security Systems.
“In 2005, high-impact vulnerabilities accounted for about 28% of total vulnerabilities, while they only accounted for 18% in 2006. The security industry has made great progress over the last year, but despite promising statistics such as this one, we predict that 2007 will require even higher levels of vigilance and innovation to deal with emerging threats and new vectors of attack.”
Attacks on Web browsers are expected to continue rising in 2007, partially as a result of the newly-created “exploits as a service” industry. The sale of exploit material is becoming even more organised and is increasingly taking the shape of the channel sales model used by legitimate corporate entities.
Managed exploit providers are purchasing exploit code from the underground, encrypting it so that it cannot be pirated, and selling it for top dollar to spam distributors. The organised development and sale of encrypted exploit code will make signature-based protection even less effective in 2007.
In terms of spam, X-Force predicts a continued sophistication of image-based spam techniques. In 2007, new forms of image-based spam will likely be developed to evade protection solutions that have been created to combat early forms of image-based spam seen in the wild.
The latest report from X-Force also points to new methods being used by attackers to avoid detection by commercial security solutions. In 2006, malware continued to become less distinct in its categorization, instead borrowing characteristics from other successful forms of malware. As such, the classical groups of virus, rootkit, spyware and other categories typically used by the security industry to differentiate standalone protection products will be much less relevant in 2007.
In 2006, X-Force also observed considerable Web browser exploitation and a strong increase in the use of Web exploit obfuscation and encryption to make it difficult for signature-based intrusion detection and prevention products to detect attacks. X-Force data indicates that about 50% of Web sites hosting exploit material designed to infect browsers now obfuscate, or camouflage, their attack, with about 30% encrypting their payload.
During 2005 and 2006, X-Force data indicates that the use of image-based spam increased rapidly, accounting for more than 40% of spam messages at the end of 2006. This issue quickly became one of the biggest challenges in spam-fighting for 2006 since it is difficult for spam blockers that rely on content identification to decode text embedded within images.
In 2007, IBM also expects to see a continued rise in the total number of vulnerabilities, largely due to the release of new operating systems. While the new operating systems include more security functions than previous versions and have undergone extensive security audits, their sheer complexity will likely introduce new vulnerabilities.
In addition, the synchronised release of new and updated third-party products that support new operating systems will likely contribute to a record year for vulnerabilities in 2007.