Cape Town - Cyber spying and cyber weapons have dominated the threat landscape in the first three months of 2013, a report shows.
The report, prepared by security company Kaspersky Lab, found that new malware, dubbed MiniDuke was targeting government systems, using a zero day vulnerability in Adobe Reader.
A zero day vulnerability is a software flaw that is discovered by users outside of the organisation that developed the software and it is often used to exploit the applicaiton to gain access to the machine.
"MiniDuke's victims turned out to be government agencies located in Ukraine, Belgium, Portugal, Romania, the Czech Republic and Ireland, as well as a research organisation in Hungary, and a research institute, two scientific research centres and a medical facility in the US. In total, we detected 59 victims in 23 countries," Kaspersky said.
The company also fingered a Chinese hacker group for attacks as reported by Mandiant.
"Mandiant states that APT1 appears to be a division of the Chinese army. This is not the first time Beijing has been accused of complicity in cyber attacks against government agencies and organisations in other countries," said Kaspersky.
Beijing has consistently denied involvement in cyber attacks, but this has not stopped the US from accusing its largest trading partner by imports of targeted cyber attacks.
A People's Liberation Army researcher described the accusations in Pentagon report on the Chinese military as irresponsible and harmful to mutual trust between the sides.
The first hard evidence from Symantic emerged of an earlier version of the Stuxnet worm that caused havoc when it infiltrated Iran's nuclear programme.
"We're very confident that the Flame team shared some of their source code with the Stuxnet group," Roel Schouwenberg of Kaspersky said of the link between the two pieces of malware.
"Although this worm has been studied by numerous antivirus vendors, there are still lots of modules that have only been examined briefly, if at all. The study of Stuxnet version 0.5 has provided more information about this malicious programme in general," said Dennis Maslennikov, senior malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.
"It's likely that we’ll find even more information in the future. The same can be said about the other cyber weapons detected after Stuxnet, as well as malware used in cyber espionage - there's a lot we still don't know," Maslennikov added.
Company attacks remained high on hackers' agenda in the period under review. Hackers have realised that corporations potentially represent a huge cash bonus if an attacks can succeed.
"Cyber criminals remain as interested as ever in hacking large companies and getting their hands on confidential data, including user information. In the first quarter of 2013 victims included Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Evernote, among others," said Kaspersky.
Kaspersky said that it detected 20 000 mobile malware applications in the first three months of 2013, equivalent to half of all malware for 2012.