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Stuxnet tricks will aid cybercriminals, warns Microsoft

13 Dec 2012

The vulnerabilities uncovered by targeted state-sponsored attacks could soon become a favourite avenue of attack for criminal malware developers, according to Microsoft.

Redmond's director of trustworthy computing Tim Rains warned that the one of the biggest threats in the coming year would be cyber crooks' use of flaws utilised for state-sponsored operations.

Rains said that the unintended consequence of operating a sophisticated cyber espionage activity is that criminal groups are essentially given free research on how to infect systems and little-known vulnerabilities are brought to the forefront.

He said that in the wake of the Stuxnet attack, the company noted an 85 percent increase in other attacks targeting the same vulnerability, an indication that malware writers picked up on the tactics used in the state-sponsored operation.

"The barriers to entry for criminals to leverage highly sophisticated techniques in their attacks are lowered each time the malware and vulnerabilities that highly skilled professionals develop and use, are discovered," Rains wrote.

"This is likely to amplify the unintended consequences of espionage in the coming years."

Rains also believes that malware writers will be moving away from the traditional "worm" infection technique and will instead be relying more heavily on Trojan downloaders disguised as media files and apps.

Additionally, Rains predicted that drive-by attacks and cross-site scripting operations will continue to grow over the course of 2013 as the popularity of exploit kits grows.

There is some hope for users and administrators, however. Microsoft believes that as users receive more frequent updates, the effectiveness of exploit techniques which rely on outdated software will plummet.

"As vendors like Adobe, Oracle, and others make it easier and easier for customers to keep ubiquitous software updated, the window of opportunity for attackers to exploit old vulnerabilities will get smaller and smaller," said Rains.

"I'm also optimistic that app store distribution models will also help software vendors successfully distribute the latest and most secure versions of their software."

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Shaun Nichols

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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