When a download warning pops up, 25 to 70 percent of the time that program will actually be malicious. Hackers are getting creative in their efforts to download Trojans onto your computer. With advancements in programming, hackers are finding it harder to hit your computers, so they have taken a new approach…get you to do it for them.
One out of every 14 programs downloaded by Windows users turns out to be malicious. And even though Microsoft has a feature in its Internet Explorer browser designed to steer users away from unknown and potentially untrustworthy software, about 5 percent of users ignore the warnings and download malicious Trojan horse programs anyway.
Five years ago, it was pretty easy for criminals to sneak their code onto computers. There were plenty of browser bugs, and many users weren't very good at patching. But since then, Internet security has evolved: Browsers have become more secure, and software makers can quickly and automatically push out patches when there's a known problem.
Now, instead of hacking the browsers themselves, the criminals are trying to hack the people using them. It's called social engineering, and it's a big problem these days. The attackers have figured out that it's not that hard to get users to download Trojans. Social engineering is how the Koobface virus spreads on Facebook. Users get a message from a friend telling them to go and view a video. When they click on the link, they're then told that they need to download some sort of video playing software in order to watch. That software is actually a malicious program.
Social-engineering hackers also try to infect victims by hacking into Web pages and popping up fake antivirus warnings designed to look like messages from the operating system. When these are downloaded they infect your computer. The criminals also use spam to send Trojans, and they will trick search engines into linking to malicious websites that look like they have interesting stories or video about hot news such as the royal wedding or the death of Osama bin Laden.
In enterprises, a social-engineering technique called spearphishing is a serious problem. In spearphishing, the criminals take the time to figure out who they're attacking, and then they create a specially crafted program or a maliciously encoded document that the victim is likely to want to open such as materials from a conference they've attended or a planning document from an organization that they do business with.
With its new SmartScreen Filter Application Reputation screening, introduced in IE 9, Internet Explorer provides a first line of defense against Trojan horse programs, including Trojans sent in spearphishing attacks.
Internet Explorer also warns users when they're being tricked into visiting malicious websites, another way that social-engineering hackers can infect computer users. In the past two years, Internet Explorer's SmartScreen has blocked more than 1.5 billion Web and download attacks.
Better browser protection appears to be pushing the criminals into social engineering, especially over the past two years where these types of crimes are off the charts. Odds are that each user will see approximately two pop up SmartScreen warnings a year. With that in mind, each user needs to think twice before they ignore these warnings.