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What You Need to Know About Exploit Kits

Exploit kits have become immensely popular in the criminal underground because of their ability to automate the process of distributing malware and infecting users. Most of the attacks that occur on the web these days originate from these malicious toolkits.

And as our SpiderLabs blog and new Trustwave Global Security Report Online revealed this week, the Magnitude Exploit Kit is quickly becoming the granddaddy of them all - underscoring the growing sophistication of crimeware and how mature the cybercrime profession has become.

We won't use this space to rehash the indefatigable work of our SpiderLabs researchers, who studied the inner workings of Magnitude - which now controls roughly a third of the exploit kit market share - to expose, among other things, its unique payment/revenue structure, effective and efficient administrative capabilities, and difficult-to-detect exploit repertoire.

Instead, we'll focus on what businesses and consumers must do to protect themselves against these malicious programs. After all, over a one-month period, Magnitude attempted to exploit 1.1 million unique machines and actually managed to compromise roughly 210,000 unique machines.

Here are four ways you can stay ahead of the trend:

• While many of the Magnitude infections have occurred via drive-by downloads - in which users are infected simply by visiting a compromised web page - it's always a smart idea to avoid clicking on links and attachments you weren't expecting. In addition, IT departments should eliminate administrator-level rights for regular users, which can reduce vulnerability exposure.

• Because these toolkits typically target vulnerabilities in commonly used third-party software like Java, Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash, ensure your users keep these programs up to date. And consider turning off components you aren't using or which may not even be necessary, such as Java in the browser.

• Exploit kits like Magnitude constantly rotate the malware they use and check the code against common anti-virus products. As such, organizations must implement advanced malware defenses, such as web security gateways, which offer real-time protection from targeted attacks, zero-day vulnerabilities, blended threats and data loss.

• Because of skill and budget shortages, some organizations may not have the capabilities to address crafty malware attacks. To help fill the gaps, they can partner with managed security services providers, which come armed with the expertise and scalable intelligence to battle today's advanced threats.

Dan Kaplan is manager of online content at Trustwave and a former IT security reporter and editor.