Pay attention to the calendar the next time you're asked by your computer to download a software update. There's a good chance it's the second Tuesday of the month, known by IT security experts as "Patch Tuesday." That's the day when many information technology vendors publicly announce newly discovered vulnerabilities in their software releases. These vulnerabilities might allow a hacker to take control of your machine, download your data, or even overwrite your system -- unless you install the patch.
Thanks to Patch Tuesday, more vulnerabilities were publicly disclosed on Tuesdays than on any other day of the week in 2007, with Wednesday coming in a close second. That's according to the research of IBM Internet Security Systems, which also found that 2007 was the first year in which fewer vulnerabilities were reported than in the previous year.
X-Force 2007 Trend Statistics
In their recent X-Force 2007 Trends report, they talk about the wide variety of online threats and vulnerabilities that raised their ugly heads last year. It's a fascinating look at the kind of Internet activity most of us wish would just go away, and which computer security experts work round the clock to thwart -- if they can.
Those threats range from garden-variety spam in your inbox to identity theft and hacker attempts to access computer systems remotely.
Accountability for Vulnerabilities 2007
A major focus of the report tracks the trends in these security vulnerabilities discovered and reported by software vendors themselves. As the X-Force statistics show, the top 5 software vendors Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, IBM and Cisco accounted for only 13.6% of the vulnerabilities reported in 2007.
Patched vs Unpatched Vulnerabilities 2007
And four-fifths of their reported vulnerabilities were able to be repaired with a software patch.
Unfortunately, of the remaining vulnerabilities reported from other vendors, only half could be secured through such a patch.
Some of these security vulnerabilities are attempts exploit your Web browser, which the X-Force report covers in detail.
Critical Browser Vulnerabilities 2007
According to IBM Internet Security Systems, there's even an underground market in software toolkits for hackers to use to create new kinds of Web browser exploitation attacks. The latest trend is for hackers to lease these software development toolkits so they can get a piece of the action with an even smaller initial investment. In an irony that was probably expected, however, X-Force analysts now suspect that many of these same hacker tools are themselves subject to widespread piracy in that community.
What is "spam"?
spam (noun): Unsolicited e-mail, often of a commercial nature, sent indiscriminately to multiple mailing lists, individuals, or newsgroups;.junk e-mail
spam (transitive verb): 1. To send unsolicited e-mail to. 2. To send.(a message) indiscriminately to multiple mailing lists, individuals or .newsgroups.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed.
Everyday spam e-mails remain the network annoyance most of us are familiar with. And on an average day, IBM Internet Security Systems analyzes 150,000 unique spam messages. They found that, in 2007, 15% of the Internet's spam messages came from e-mail servers in the United States, followed by servers in Russia, Germany, and South Korea. But most spam is controlled by automated programs often called "bots" and these can be manipulated remotely from any country, regardless of where the server is located.
Most popular subject lines for spam, late 2007
Often the subject line can be a clue before you open the e-mail -- but even those subject lines can range anywhere from an empty field to random offers for "replica watches." Offers for prescription pharmaceuticals and advertising masquerading as an e-greeting card were also popular techniques of spammers.
What is "phishing"?
By the end of 2007, 1 out of every 100 spam messages was something even more nefarious: an attempt to get someone's personal information to commit identity theft, an illegal activity otherwise known as "phishing," spelled with a "p-h."
This is a growing trend in consumer fraud and computer hacking, as many phishing expeditions try to trick consumers into turning over their financial information.
Most popular subject lines for phishing, late 2007
These e-mails often use subject lines or a return address that try to look like a real security alert from your bank or brokerage firm. Or, increasingly, they'll try to link you to a Web site they've set up to look like a legitimate bank but which is actually a front for a criminal operation.
Distribution of Web content, late 2007
The other bane of many people's experience online is all the undesirable content you can come across on the Web without even trying. There's some good news to report in those trends, at least. In 2006, unwanted or undesirable content such as pornography, criminal activity, or hate speech accounted for one-eighth of all the content on the Web. But by the end of 2007, that number had dropped to less than a tenth.