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RSA: Hold off on China panic, pleads Sophos

27 Feb 2013
Sophos logo on sign

A top security researcher with Sophos is hoping to shift the public's attention away from Chinese hackers back to the threat of traditional malware.

Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor for the antivirus firm, said that the talk of advanced persistent threats (APTs) has begun to draw attention and resources away from the far larger pack of malware threats.

"I find that to be a horrible distraction. If nation-states are fighting, that is a problem that the Pentagon needs to deal with," Wisniewski told V3.

"We have taken our eye off the ball, we are dying a death of a million cuts by these cybercriminals."

Wisniewski noted that while APTs remain extremely rare in the wild, daily discovery rates of new malware samples continue to rise as cybercriminals create new malware families and polymorphic attacks modify their own signatures.

Sophos has found in recent months that among the most popular forms of new malware is ransomware. The extortion tools lock the victim PC and demand that the user send money to the attacker in order to regain access to their systems.

Wisniewski said that the migration to ransomware was in part a response to efforts by security firms and law enforcement to crack down on the fake antivirus sector.

He explained that when security vendors pushed the major payment card companies to crack down on processing malware payments, criminals moved away from trying to trick users into 'purchasing' products and instead move to a ransomware model which uses one-time payment cards and services.

"Because they are holding your machine hostage you are desperate," Wisniewski said. "Even if you know its not the FBI [locking your PC] you might still pay."

To help combat the growing crop of malware, Wisniewski recommends administrators take advantage of built-in security tools, particularly the Microsoft Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET).

The researcher noted that while the system can take some time to properly configure and deploy, EMET can go a long way toward enhancing security and protecting end users from infection.

"While It is not something I could teach my mom and dad to use, IT people should not have any trouble whatsoever," he said.

Additionally, Wisniewski recommended that users disable the attack-prone Java platform whenever possible and use a second browser when accessing essential Java web applications.

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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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