Report: IM, P2P threats on the rise

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Report: IM, P2P threats on the rise

Bill Brenner, Senior News Writer

According to the results of newly released research, threats targeting instant messaging (IM) and peer-to-peer (P2P) applications rose significantly in the first quarter of 2006 compared to the same period last year.

The findings come from research

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by Foster City, Calif.-based vendor FaceTime Communications Inc.

The company examined what it calls "greynets," programs installed on a system without permission from IT departments that are adept at evading existing security tools. The company considers instant messaging IM, peer-to-peer and spyware as greynet programs. Data used in the company's analysis came from server log files maintained by its lab. Each individual incident report represents the detection of a security issue impacting one or more real-time communications channels on one day, FaceTime said.

"The number of threats across multiple P2P and IM channels demonstrates the need for a comprehensive approach to managing threats," Tyler Wells, FaceTime's research director, said in a statement. "As malware creators increasingly attack these mainstream applications, administrators should ensure they have the ability to control and manage them."

Based on the criteria, FaceTime painted the following picture for the first quarter:

  • With 453 incidents recorded in the period, the number of security incidents was 723% percent higher in Q1 2006 compared to the same period last year.
  • The growth in threat incidents targeting public IM channels stabilized during the quarter, but the complexity of incidents and use of multiple delivery methods increased.
  • Multi-channel propagation was 23 times more common in Q1 2006 than the same period last year.
  • Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and chat-based attacks continue to dominate, but their share of all attacks dropped in favor of an increasing number of P2P attacks.
  • P2P attacks were almost 15 times more common in Q1 2006 when compared with a year earlier.
  • The number of threats using P2P in the first quarter has already surpassed the total number of P2P attacks in all of 2005.

    FaceTime's report is the latest to show a surge in the level of malware targeting real-time communications programs.

    In February, Waltham, Mass.-based IMlogic Inc. and San Diego-based Akonix Systems Inc. released reports showing a dramatic spike in IM threats last year and an IT community that has yet to achieve an adequate defense.

    IMlogic reported a 1,700% increase in reported incidents in 2005, compared to all reported incidents in 2004. Meanwhile, Akonix surveyed more than 100 organizations and found that IM threats aren't on the radar screen for most of them. Only 11% reported having IM security tools in place, compared to 73% who use e-mail security programs. Incredibly, the company said, almost 50% of respondents replied that "an IM hygiene solution never crossed my mind."

    IT professionals have long lamented that it's difficult to block IM threats, since most programs are installed by end users and are hard to monitor.