Study Releases Trends on Search Engine Malware and Twitter Usage

Barracuda Labs, a company that deals with Internet security and the like, has released its 2010 Midyear Security Report. The report was presented last week in Las Vegas at the DefCON 18 and Security Bsides shows. The report focuses on two main topics: malware associated with search engines, and trends in the usage of the popular social networking site known as Twitter. If you’re concerned about online security, the numbers aren’t pretty.

Barracuda’s findings showed just how attractive both search engines and social networking sites like Twitter are to those looking to implant malware on users’ systems. Due to the ever-growing popularity of social networking sites, as well as the sheer need for search engines, they seem like the perfect targets for attackers to focus on. By studying trends among both arenas, Barracuda Labs can get a sense of what attackers are focusing on and how to combat their techniques.

The search engine malware study was conducted over a period of approximately 60 days. At the center of the study were four major search engines: Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Twitter. Barracuda wanted to see just what kind of topics were being used by attackers as vehicles to plant their malware. In all, there were over 5 million search results and 25,000 trending topics analyzed for the study to get a sufficient sample size.

The search engine study revealed that Google was king when it came to malware infections. Searches on hot trending topics were conducted, and Google had a 69 percent share of the total  malware found among the four search engines. Yahoo came in second with 18 percent of the malware, with Bing and Twitter bringing up the rear with 12 and 1 percent, respectively. 

From those numbers alone, Google had more than twice the amount of malware on its own than the other three search engines combined, showing that its large market share among search engines makes it a preferred target for attackers.  The study found that some of the preferred trending topics used by distributors of malware were a Playboy Playmate, three famous actresses, and a professional football player, among others.  It was also determined that the peak times for malware were from the hours of 4-10 AM GMT.

Barracuda’s study on Twitter usage involved the analysis of over 25 million of the social networking site’s accounts. The study revealed that just under 29 percent of Twitter’s users were those defined as “True Twitter Users” who had at least ten followers, followed ten people, and had at least ten tweets to their resumes. It found that tweeting activity was increasing, and with that was an increase in malicious activity as well. 

Other findings included that one out of eight users followed one-tenth as many people as followed them, and that almost 50 percent of users followed less than five people. Finally, it was released that the Twitter Crime Rate, or the percentage of accounts suspended for suspicious or malicious activity, for the first six months of 2010 was 1.67 percent. 

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