McAfee: Malware samples exceeded expectations in 2011

The latest report from McAfee only reinforces findings that mobile malware and malicious sites are reproducing at a dangerously rapid pace.

The number of malware samples discovered worldwide unfortunately surpassed expectations for 2011 overall, according to McAfee's fourth quarter Threats Report.

Last year, McAfee researchers predicted that global malware occurrences would reach at least 75 million. By August 2011, the number already stood at 65 million and counting.

In the Q4 report, McAfee refrained from providing an exact figure, except to say that "the cumulative number of unique malware samples in the collection still exceeds the 75 million mark."

Two areas that saw a huge climb in activity were malicious sites and mobile malware.

McAfee found up to 9,300 new bad sites added each day in Q4 -- up from an average of 6,500 in Q3 2011. Thus, approximately one in every 400 URLs were malicious, with a total of more than 700,000 malicious sites for the year overall.

Most of these sites stem from the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, South Korea and Germany.

As for mobile malware, it's no surprise that Android is a huge target here, and researchers affirmed that this was the busiest season for Android malware thus far.

If there is a silver lining at all here, it is that global spam reached its lowest point in years by the end of 2011 -- notably in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina and South Korea.

In the report, Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs, pointed towards "a significant shift" in the motivations behind cyber attacks that started to turn last year.

Security issues made more headlines in 2011 than ever before, and showed that no organization, platform or device is immune to increasingly sophisticated threats. Given that more of the world’s users will conduct personal and business transactions through mobile devices, the industry faces a tremendous challenge, requiring more cooperation and coordination to keep them safe.

McAfee isn't alone in these assessments. Cisco Security has published several reports in the last year that concur with these findings as global spam rates have declined while malware encounters and targeted attacks pick up in interest.

Why? There's more money to be made with malware and targeted attacks, not to mention there are seemingly more political motivations (see: hacktivism) with these methods over spam.