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McAfee: New computer virus threats reach all-time high

Kathleen Kriz, Contributor

New data released by security vendor McAfee Inc. shows that the amount of malware in the wild has never been higher, and while a large portion of it is being thwarted successfully, Mac users may face an increased risk.

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It might be time to start looking at how you're using the Web, and how you're browsing email and security software for your Mac.
 Dave Marcus,
security research and communications managerMcAfee Inc.

In its McAfee Threats Report: Second Quarter 2010, McAfee Inc. notes that the first half of 2010 has been McAfee's most active six-month period for malware protection updates, and in this past quarter alone, malware in the wild reached its highest levels ever, with 10 million new pieces of malware discovered, up from 1 million in Q1.

Attackers' desire for money and data are the two biggest reasons for this increase, according to Dave Marcus, security research and communications manager at Santa Clara, Calif.-based McAfee.

"Even though there's more malware than ever before, we're actually identifying more malware than ever before, so it's a way of saying that we're keeping up with the bad guys," Marcus said.

Portable storage devices were the most popular targets for malware and related new computer virus threats. Everything from traditional storage keys to digital picture frames and cameras, Marcus said, is now being affected by malware.

The report also offered a warning for Mac users. Until now, Mac users have had little malware to deal with. But a new Trojan mentioned in the report specifically targeting Macs, HellRTS, may be a harbinger of what's to come.

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HellRTS is a remote control virus that allows the creators to potentially seize control of an infected Mac, something that is common in the Windows world, but a rarity for Macs. Data shows there still isn't nearly as much malware affecting Macs as there is PCs, Marcus said, but it might be time for Mac users to take security more seriously.

"It might be time to start looking at how you're using the Web, and how you're browsing email and security software for your Mac," Marcus said. "It comes down to the user and the data. It's not really about the operating system anymore."

McAfee also noted an increase in spam emails mimicking retail sites like Amazon.com. According to the report, the amount of spam in general increased only 2.5% from last quarter, but is up a total of 7% from the last quarter of 2009. These emails look like a standard promotional email to the untrained eye, but when a user clicks a link in the message, he or she is redirected to a malicious site. Spam is hardly a new development, Marcus said, but it's important for the general public to know what tricks and trends are happening in the spam realm so users can be on the lookout.

"They follow the same trends that we follow," Marcus said of spammers. "Whichever words are trending highly and whatever content is trending highly [in search engines], that's what they're going to use as their lure to try to get you to click something every single time."


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