DURING the 2006 FIFA World Cup, German soccer fans desperate for tickets received e-mail messages in German telling them they have won the FIFA ticket lottery.
Eagerly they opened the zipped files and unknowingly downloaded a worm. The FIFA office computers were soon overwhelmed by the worms. Work stopped while the digital attack was sorted out.
Cyber-attacks are acquiring local flavours. The viral nature of increasingly popular Web 2.0 and peer-to-peer networks are being exploited in the distribution of malware, that is, any software developed to harm a computer system.
These findings were reported in McAfee Avert Labs's third annual Global Threat Report entitled 'One Internet, Many Worlds'.
'This isn't malware for the masses anymore,' said Jeff Green, senior vice-president of McAfee Avert Labs. 'Cybercrooks have become extremely adept at learning the nuances of local regions and creating malware specific to each country. They're not just skilled at computer programming, they're skilled at psychology and linguistics too.'
With 23 languages in the European Union, language used to be a barrier for malware authors. But malware has now adapted to the language of the Internet domain where scam messages are being sent.
Even word processors were not spared. Users of Ichitaro, a popular word processing program in Japan, were targeted with spyware.
What are users to do?
Vu Nguyen, McAfee Avert Lab's field research consultant, suggested that the best defence is for the user to remain vigilant and careful.
'Use your brains,' he said. Proper configuration and updating of anti-virus patches are vital.
'The best software is only as good as your last update,' he reminded.
Corporations are better equipped against cyber-attacks, he said, as they have dedicated professionals controlling data traffic and equipment.
Don Ng, field director of Enterprise Security in Asia Pacific for security firm Symantec, warned that corporations face attacks from many fronts.
He said: 'Companies should be adopting a multi-layer strategy including end-user education. Conventional tools just won't work for a worm written just an hour ago.
'What's needed is special software that scans computer systems regularly to catch these new worms.'
Cyber-attacks can come from these fronts:
Hackers' motivation is more diverse. In Estonia, the denial-of- service attacks on the country's infrastructure originated not from criminals but political activists.
One quarter of China's 137 million computer users play online games. Malware authors are looking for passwords to get into users' gaming accounts so that they can steal virtual goods and currency.