There is a direct correlation between the recent stock market volatility and the growth of new cyber-threats.
According to Panda Security, the two are tied together much more closely than previously thought and as the recent stock market instability has accelerated, so has the volume of targeted cyber attacks and their relative impact on the economy over the last month and a half.
In addition, analysts at Panda believe the recent spike in malware could be related to cyber-criminals now having fewer possible targets as a result of consolidation within the banking industry.
"When we began looking into the specific effects cyber-criminals had on the economy during times of duress we found a startling connection: the criminal economy is closely interrelated with the global economy," says Jeremy Matthews, head of Panda Security's sub-Saharan operations.
"Based on our extensive research and analysis of emerging malware patterns, we believe that criminal organizations are closely watching market performance and adapting as needed to ensure maximum profit."
The new strategy appears to be developed in response to banking industry consolidation brought on by the multi-million-dollar bank bailout packages introduced by several governments around the world.
"As a result of this consolidation, fewer banking entities will exist in the long term and the perception of instability in the financial community makes for a less attractive target. This situation has increased the volume of other types of malware such as adware, which under normal circumstances would be second to Trojans.
"Cyber-criminals have to increase their activity to reach more users with campaigns designed to put money directly into their pockets, especially during times of economic instability.
"For example, we have seen a surge in the number of fake antivirus software scams that trick unsuspecting consumers into making an online transaction, instead of criminals relying heavily on phishing the credentials for banks," explains Matthews.
"Our data also shows that these fake antivirus campaigns are generating over R144-million in profit each month for the underground economy."
The following are highlights of Panda's key findings:
* On average, the US stock market experienced between a 3% to 7% decline from 1 September to 9 October. However, activity on the "malware markets" was the opposite: it grew substantially as the stock markets declined.
* From 5 September to 16 September, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Nasdaq, S&P 500 and Composite Index all dropped from the plus 0.0% range to approximately negative 3% or lower. In the same period the Spanish IBEX 35 index and the London FTSE 100 also suffered major losses. The same timeframe witnessed a significant surge in daily malware threats – for example from 8 September to 10 September, the volume of daily threats grew from 10 150 to well over 24 000.
* From 14 September to 16 September, stock markets dropped from -0.5% to -5.5% while daily threats grew 50% each day, from 8 276 on 14 September to over 31 404 on 16 September.
"There will be no end to the persistence and pervasiveness of cyber-criminals and their attempts at exploiting malware for financial gain," says Matthews. "Regardless of the economic state we're in, cyber-criminals are continually adjusting their strategies and, from this evidence, are capitalising on economic lows to prey on unsuspecting victims."