There are more than 300 social networking
sites on the Web today. Consumer social networking sites include dating services like
OkCupid, sites for school children such as Bebo and Facebook and general sites such as the
hugely popular indie music networking site MySpace. LinkedIn and OpenBC and other
business-focused sites provide a means to connect employees together and with other
contacts around the world. Social networking sites and the thousands of other websites
that rely on user-contributed content are broadly referred asWeb 2.0.
But while the explosion in the popularity of Web 2.0 sites
has changed the way we communicate and use the Web, it has also created an irresistible
target for malware authors. As more and more users go online to take advantage of Web 2.0
applications like social-networking sites, blogs, and wikis, malware authors are right
behind them, opening up yet another front in the constant cat-and-mouse game between
security defenses and hackers.
Early Web 2.0-focused threats emerged in earnest in 2005.
By October 2005, one creative MySpace user unleashed the Samy worm, a cross-site scripting
worm that allowed him to add one million users to his "friends" list. While the
damage was limited, the implications of the Samy worm were huge.
Samy opened the security communitys eyes to the
potential for abuse of AJAX and Web 2.0 applications. Cross-site scripting worms can
insert malicious code into dynamically generated Web pages and allow an attacker to change
user settings, access account information, poison cookies with malicious code, expose SSL
connections and access restricted sites.
Keep in mind that, Web 2.0 sites arent just for
consumers. More and more businesses are pushing applications to the Web. In 2006, Web 2.0
threats started to occur more frequently and on a larger scale.
In mid-July 2006, an online banner advertisement
(DeckOutYourDeck.com) on MySpace.com used the Windows Metafile Flaw (WMF) to infect more
than 1 million users with spyware when they merely browsed the sites with unpatched
versions of Windows. Later that month a worm was discovered on the site that embeds Java
script into user profiles. The profiles redirected users to a site claiming the U.S.
Government was behind the September 11th attacks.
In August 2006, the ScanSafe Threat Center found that up to
one in every 600 social-networking pages hosted malware. It also found that the use of
social networking sites, often assumed to be popular only with teens, accounted for around
1 per cent of all Web use in the workplace, so posing a potential open-door
risk for businesses too.
Three months later, an entry on the German edition of
Wikipedia was re-written to include false information about a supposedly new version of
the infamous Blaster worm, along with a link to a supposed 'fix'. In reality, the link
pointed to malware designed to infect Windows PCs. And in December 2006, a Quick Time
exploit was used on MySpace to spread malware via video. The virus eventually forced
MySpace to remove infected profiles.
But why has Web 2.0 become a new threat vector for malware
authors and criminals?
Web 2.0 sites are by definition more open than traditional
sites. The hundreds of thousands of users contributing content to Web 2.0 sites make it
easy for malware authors to hide and insert malware on dynamically generated Web 2.0
However, because a site is well known, trust by association
is created where no trust should exist. For example, a book review posted by a user on
Amazon.com is probably viewed by most users as legitimate content on a trusted, brand name
ScanSafes research also revealed the presence of
referrals to adult-themed personals sites, such as adultfriendfinder.com, on
social network sites popular with teens.
The presence of adult-oriented adware is disturbing, not
only because much of it is inappropriate content for minors, but because underage users
may not be in a position to consent to installing adware or understand the end-user
Many Web 2.0 sites have a large user base, making them a
very attractive target. For example, in August, MySpace reported that it had reached over
100 million accounts and it claims that it attracts new registrations at a rate of 230,000
Policy-Based Solutions Will Not Protect You
from Web 2.0 Threats. So how do you protect your network from this new generation of
Web-based threats? The short answer: dont rely on outdated solutions.
When Web pages were relatively static and had a centralized
content owner, software companies with URL filtering technology relied heavily on Web
crawlers to categorize sites. Now they are attempting to use that technology to look for
However, by simply doing the math, youll see that
this filter-centric approach cannot keep up with the flood of new Web 2.0 content.
According to Netcraft, there are 107 million active
websites. But if your non-real time solution only crawls 80 million websites each day,
which many claim, its still leaving you exposed to potential threats on 20+ percent
of all existing sites.
But lets put that 20 percent aside. To check 80
million sites daily for malware a solution would have to crawl 926 websites each second.
Assuming that each website has only 3 URLs, an almost absurdly conservative estimate, a
solution would have to crawl 2,778 URLs each second, 24 X 7. Even then, each page gets
crawled just once per day. So malware posted on a page later in the day isnt
identified for at least another 24 hours.
Scarier still is that these figures do not include the
millions of pages on high profile Web 2.0 siteslike the 6 million Wikipedia pages
and the over 100 million pages on MySpacethe content of which is perpetually
changing. Real-Time Scanning and Profiling is Essential Web 2.0 user-contributed content
means that the content on countless URLs is constantly changing. Static Web filtering
solutions that rely on periodically updated URL databases and honeypots to identify
threats are simply not in a position to keep up with the dynamic content that
characterizes Web 2.0 sites. In order to keep pace with the dynamic nature of Web 2.0
sites, it is imperative for a Web security solution to scan and profile URLs in real-time
each time a URL is requested. A simplistic database lookup is not enough.
In addition, Web security solutions that rely heavily on
anti-virus signatures will be slow to react to zero-day threats that leverage Web 2.0
sites to propagate, leaving many vulnerable to these attacks until a signature is made
available. In the six billion Web requests ScanSafe processes each month, on average
between 10-15 percent are threats for which there is no existing signature or patch.
As with all security, multi-layered protection is
imperative. To effectively protect against Web 2.0 threats a solution should use an array
of analysis techniques including heuristics, behavioral analysis, anti-virus signatures
and network intelligence that can fuel real-time analysis of URLs.
You wouldnt feel very safe if the only security check
used in airport screening was matching your name to a periodically updated central
register of suspect individuals. However, you wouldand probably do feel more
secure when airports use real-time, multi-layered screening. In other words, checking
every single passenger each time they travel by passing them though scanning machines, and
having expert methods for identifying suspicious characteristics in addition to having a
no fly list.
The same is true for delivering protection from Web 2.0
threatsalthough unlike tedious airport security lines, in the Web world real-time
scanning should be undetectable and painless to the user, allowing them to surf while
keeping them fully protected from threats.