As China shuts down the country's largest hackers' training ground, a report highlights more problems.
More computers are hacked in China than anywhere else in the world, a new report from security firm McAfee revealed.
In the last three months of 2009, about 1,095,000 computers in China were hacked, and 1,057,000 in the United States – this on top of the 10 million or so machines already infected in each country. An estimated $1 trillion in intellectual property was stolen worldwide in 2008 through hacking, McAfee estimated.
In China, hacked computers often are clustered into "botnets," a.k.a. battalions of corrupted computers commandeered to attack websites and spew spam. The growing presence of botnets is yet another sign of network insecurity – already a huge concern for both business and government. The news comes just after China closed down Black Hawk Safety Net, the country's biggest training website for hackers. The site signed up some 12,000 paying subscribers, providing them with both primers for cyberattack and Trojan software, which hackers use to illegally control computers. The report also comes after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's historic Jan. 21 speech on Internet freedom, where she announced: "An attack on one nation's networks can be an attack on all."
China produced 12 percent of the world's botnet "zombies," as they're called. The U.S. was second on the list with 9.5 percent – down from the top spot (and 13.1 percent) in the previous quarter. The rest of the top five: Brazil, Russia, and Germany.
It's not necessarily the Chinese themselves who are causing the problems. "Just because the attacks original from China doesn't mean the people behind the attacks are Chinese or even physically in China," Gideon Lenkey, founder of protection company Ra Security, told Internetevolution.com. "China's Internet is very closed off from the rest of the Internet so it's a great position to attack from."
Other findings from the report:
• A drop in spam: Levels dropped from a record 175 billion a day in the third quarter of 2009 to 135 billion, a 24 percent decline. Don't get too excited – the "overall historical trend still points upward," said the report. "Compared with the fourth quarter of 2008, volume is up 35 percent." For the record, there were about 135.5 billion spam emails sent every day in 2009, compared with 122 billion a day in 2008 and 76.5 billion a day in 2007. The U.S. is the world leader in spam production, but Brazil and India are fast catching up.
• Malware threats are on the rise, nearly doubling over the year. It was a "transformative and evolutionary year for computer threats," the report said, with portable storage devices becoming a very popular target. This is partly because the hardware is so popular, but also because so many PCs use the Windows autorun feature – meaning no user action is required to become infected.
• Last year saw an increase in bogus antivirus software that convinces web users their PC is infected and asks them to pay for equally bogus security software. Thanks to the growing popularity of Adobe applications, there also was a rise in attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in Flash and Acrobat reader.
Last month a report from McAfee and the Ce
nter for Strategic and International Studies revealed a growing threat of cyberattack, with widespread attacks on critical systems.
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.