News Release

Cisco Report Spotlights Worldwide Cyber Security Threats

2008 Edition Warns of More Sophisticated, Targeted Internet Attacks From an Increasingly Savvy Online Criminal Economy
Dec 15, 2008

SAN JOSE, Calif. - December 15, 2008 - Cisco today released a security report that warns that Internet-based attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and specialized as profit-driven criminals continue to hone their approach to stealing data from businesses, employees and consumers. In the 2008 edition of the Cisco® Annual Security Report, the company identifies the year's top security threats and offers recommendations for protecting networks against attacks that are propagating more rapidly, becoming increasingly difficult to detect, and exploiting technological and human vulnerabilities.

"Every year we see threats evolve as criminals discover new ways to exploit people, networks and the Internet. This year's trends underscore how important it is to look at all basic elements of security policies and technologies," said Patrick Peterson, Cisco fellow and chief security researcher. "Organizations can lower their risk of data loss by fine-tuning access controls and patching known vulnerabilities to eliminate the ability for criminals to exploit holes in infrastructures. It is important to upgrade applications, endpoint systems and networking equipment to help ensure that corporate systems run smoothly and minimize risk."

Peterson describes some key threat trends that gained prominence in 2008 in three video blogs posted today:

The Annual Cisco Security Report: Notable Trends

  • The overall number of disclosed vulnerabilities grew by 11.5 percent over 2007.
  • Vulnerabilities in virtualization technology nearly tripled from 35 to 103 year over year.
  • Attacks are becoming increasingly blended, cross-vector and targeted.
  • Cisco researchers saw a 90 percent growth in threats originating from legitimate domains, nearly double what was seen in 2007.
  • The volume of malware successfully propagated via e-mail attachments is declining. Over the past two years (2007-2008), the number of attachment-based attacks decreased by 50 percent from the previous two years (2005-2006).

Specific Threats Across the Web

  • Spam. According to Cisco, spam accounts for nearly 200 billion messages each day, approximately 90 percent of worldwide e-mail. The United States is the biggest source at 17.2 percent. Other countries who contribute spam include Turkey (9.2 percent), Russia (8 percent), Canada (4.7 percent), Brazil (4.1 percent), India (3.5 percent), Poland (3.4 percent), South Korea (3.3 percent), Germany and the United Kingdom (2.9 percent each).
  • Phishing. While targeted spear-phishing represents about 1 percent of all phishing attacks, it is expected to become more prevalent as criminals personalize spam and make messages appear more credible.
  • Botnets. Botnets have become a nexus of criminal activity on the Internet. This year, numerous legitimate Web sites were infected with IFrames, malicious code injected by botnets that redirect visitors to malware-downloading sites.
  • Social engineering. The use of social engineering to entice victims to open a file or click links continues to grow. Cisco expects that in 2009, social engineering techniques will increase in number, vectors and sophistication.
  • Reputation hijacking. More online criminals are using real e-mail accounts with large, legitimate Web mail providers to send spam. This "reputation hijacking" offers increased deliverability because it makes spam harder to detect and block. Cisco estimates that in 2008 spam resulting from e-mail reputation hijacking of the top three Web mail providers accounted for less than 1 percent of all spam worldwide but constituted 7.6 percent of the providers' mail traffic.

Threat Assessment and the Future

Findings for the report came in part from Cisco Security Intelligence Operations, an aggregation of tightly integrated data and security services derived from multiple Cisco divisions and devices to continuously assess and correlate Internet threats and vulnerabilities. Sources for Cisco Security Intelligence Operations data include Cisco's worldwide Threat Operations Centers, Cisco Security Remote Management Services, the SenderBase Network, Cisco Security IntelliShield Alert Manager, Cisco Intrusion Prevention Systems and a variety of other Cisco functions, including Cisco Security Research and Operations, Cisco Security Incident Response, the Corporate Security Programs Office, and Global Policy and Government Affairs. In 2009, researchers from these Cisco security teams will watch the following trends closely:

  • Insider threats. Negligent or disgruntled employees can threaten corporate security. The global economic downturn may prompt more security incidents involving employees, making it crucial for IT, HR, and other lines of business to collaborate on mitigating threats.
  • Data loss. Whether through carelessness, breaches by hackers, or from insiders, data loss is a growing problem that can lead to grave financial consequences. Technology, education and clear, well-enforced data security policies can make compliance easier and reduce incidents.
  • Mobility, remote working, and new tools as risk factors. The trend toward remote working and the related use of Web-based tools, mobile devices, virtualization, "cloud computing" and similar technologies to enhance productivity will continue in 2009. It will be a challenge for security personnel. The edge of the network is expanding rapidly, and the increasing number of devices and applications in use can make the expanding network more susceptible to new threats.

Today Cisco security executives will describe the report's key findings in greater detail during a live, interactive Internet TV broadcast that can be accessed at the URL below. No registration is required. Go to the URL at 8:00 a.m. PST and click "Play" to launch the live presentation To access the free report, visit