In the run-up to Valentine's Day, security experts have warned that a recent jump in the number of online dating sites across the world can be at least partly attributed to the increase in malevolent websites used by cyber criminal as an opportune moment for phishing, spam and hacker attacks on unsuspecting victims.
"Organized criminal units have in the past timed their attacks to coincide with popular celebration occasions in order to achieve maximum success in compromising the integrity of computer systems," said Gunter Ollman, director of X-Force at Internet Security Systems (ISS).
"It is anticipated that Valentine's Day is a day that is similarly marked on the criminals' calendar for targeted attacks." In the weeks running up to Valentine's Day, many phishing emails will do the rounds that promote love or dating opportunities, he added. Organised criminals use this method to lure users to visit specifically designed and prepared websites, which are used to infect the victim's PC with worms, viruses and Trojans. This allows the criminal gang to gain control of systems or access confidential information such as usernames, passwords, or bank account information and credit card numbers.
"Attacks from hackers will take many forms but, based upon previous observations by ISS, will most insidiously utilise email to deliver spam with a Valentine's Day message containing embedded malicious URLs. These messages will be designed to drive their intended victims to websites that will attempt to install spyware and other malware on the victim's computer," added Gunter.
"These criminal organisations tend to use advanced spyware propagation techniques that utilise exploit code to bypass local security settings and install the payload on the user's computer." ISS notes that the number of dating sites across the world has increased by 17 percent within the last twelve months. The top five countries with the highest increase in dating websites over the past year are USA with 42.9 percent; Germany with 20.2 percent; China with 8.9 percent; the Netherlands with 7.9 percent and Russia close by with 7 percent. Interestingly, the UK reaches the top eight with an increase of only 1.8 percent.