May 6, 2010, 12:01 PM

The percentage of global web attacks from U.S. drops in 2009

A lower percentage of Internet attacks originated in the United States in 2009 than in 2008, while Brazil saw gains.

19% of attacks originated in the United States in 2009, down from 23% in 2008, though the U.S. still led all other countries in percentage of malicious Internet activity originated from inside the country, Symantec says.

Attacks can include criminals attempting to steal payment card data or other information from consumers who shop online, though the report does not break down how many attacks specifically involved online retailing and shopping. The report doesn’t say how many attacks Symantec monitored.

The report says the most common targets of web-based attacks last year were vulnerabilities in Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer web browser and applications from companies including Microsoft and Adobe Systems Inc. that process PDF files. PDF is a commonly used acronym that stands for portable document format.

The report identifies a PDF-related “suspicious file download” as the most common type of attack last year, accounting for 49% of attacks, followed by an attack identified as the Microsoft Internet Explorer ADODB.Stream Object File Installation Weakness, which accounted for 18% of attacks.

Symantec notes, however, that software fixes have been available for many of the vulnerabilities targeted in these attacks. For example, software fixes have been available since 2004 for the Microsoft Internet Explorer ADODB.Stream Object File Installation Weakness, which involves a vulnerability in Internet Explorer that allows attackers to install malicious software for stealing data from a computer network. But it has remained a common target, the report says, probably because its long-running existence has made it a common target of web attack technology kits like Fragus, Eleonore and Neosploit that are available in criminal markets.

The report doesn’t specify how many attacks successfully stole data or otherwise compromised computer systems.

Symantec attributes the decreased proportion of overall malicious activity for the U.S. to a corresponding increase in attacks in other countries and to the lower incidence in the U.S. of e-mail spam generated by zombies, or computers that have been infected with malicious software designed to e-mail spam intended to attack other computers. The report also notes that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission last year shut down an Internet service provider that was known to host or actively distribute malicious software code.

Among other countries, China was in second place, with 8% of malicious activity originating there in 2009, up from 9% in 2008. Brazil, with 6% of malicious activity originating there in 2009, up from 4% in 2008, dislodged Germany from third place. Germany had 5% of malicious activity in 2009, down from 6% in 2008, Symantec says.

The report blames Brazil’s growing Internet infrastructure and broadband use for the country’s rise in malicious web activity. Another country with growing use of the Internet, India, also moved up in the rankings. India took the fifth spot this year, just behind Germany, with 4% of malicious activity, up from 3% in 2008. India accounted for 15% of web attacks in Asia-Pacific and Japan region in 2009, a 10% increase from 2008.

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