Carrying on from last weeks Blog the answer to the “what is malware?” question cannot be complete without exploring the ‘why’ of its creation. By now, you should have a pretty clear idea of what type of damage can be done as a result of malware, but you might be wondering – why do programmers create malware in the first place?
Student Hackers and Cyber-crooks
In the early days of software, programmers wrote malware mostly to prank one another, or to show off their technical skills. These programmers, who were usually students had a great sense of humour but did not have much business sense. These students eventually graduated and got jobs. Their new motivation was now money, and how to make more of it using their skills. Some of these programmers learned that they can make thousands a day if they successfully exploit malware to their advantage.
These people went on to become cyber-crooks, defrauding individuals and organizations for financial gain. These criminals steal personal banking information to transfer money out of users’ bank accounts and into their own. They also launch distributed denial of service attacks against corporations and ask for money in exchange for an end to the attack.
Worms, zombies and distributed denial of service attacks are a good way to inflict mass damage on a global scale and are therefore very appealing to cyber-activists. These people want to get a message across and are ready to do so by utilizing any means necessary and this includes writing malware that causes damage, gets them noticed, and enables them to announce their messages and beliefs to a large audience.
Governments are also part of the game. A cyber-war between countries is raging. Some countries such as China, Syria, and America are rumoured to be state-sponsoring cyber-gangs whose only purpose is to research and develop new malware techniques capable of infiltrating government agencies and infrastructures. Malware has recently been spotted in the wild that was designed to infect SCADA systems with the scope of shutting down nuclear reactors. Some reports suggest that this worm, which might have been created by the Americans, was successful in shutting down several Iranian nuclear power plant coolers.
The malware problem is huge and is growing fast. By the end of 2010 the counter for unique malware programs stood at 14 million, with a staggering 60,000 pieces of new malicious code detected every day. Recently a worm called Koobface — which targeted people on social networks — netted its creators over 2 million dollars in just 12 months. Another worm, the Mariposa is said to have created the biggest network of zombie machines in the world. Experts could never determine its exact size, but estimated that over 12 million computers were infected. This worm dropped spyware capable of stealing sensitive information from victims, such as bank account numbers and credit card details. All this was created by a single hacker in Spain who fortunately made a mistake which exposed him and got him arrested.
The industry is fighting back. Numerous security solutions are available from many vendors that help stop malware infections. The threat however is a moving target. Hackers keep finding new ways to write bigger and better malware, the incentives are all there and the waging war is showing no signs of slowing down.
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