The malware problem looks better after the first cup of coffee

Since most of my income comes from a company on the West Coast, I’m used to people assuming that I should be working according to their time zone (PST) rather than my own (GMT). But apparently we’re all wrong.
According to Trustwave’s Global Security Report:

“The number of executables and viruses sent in the early morning hours increased, eventually hitting a maximum between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time before tapering off throughout the rest of the day. The spike is likely an attempt to catch people as they check emails at the beginning of the day.”

Did I miss something? Has everyone but me moved to the East Coast? I’m not even sure it matters when you receive a malicious executable, unless you don’t get around to opening it until after your security software has been updated to detect it. However, the report also tells us that:

“The time from compromise to detection in most environments is about six months…”

So if evading AV software is really the point, this seems to suggest that all those people who’ve moved to the East Coast are coping even less effectively with their email than I am.

Hold on, though. Maybe this tells something about the blackhat’s time zone, rather than the victim’s? The report doesn’t seem to tell us anything about the geographical origin of the emails that Trustwave has tracked, but it does tells us that apart from the 32.5% of attacks in general that are of unknown origin, the largest percentage (29.6%) come from the Russian Federation. Russia actually covers no less than nine time zones (until a couple of years ago, it was eleven), but perhaps we can assume for the sake of argument that a high percentage of those attackers are in time zones between CET and Moscow Standard (now UTC+4), which applies to most of European Russia. (That assumption allows us to include Romania and the Ukraine.) Perhaps, after a hard morning administering botnets, Eastern European gangsters are best able to find time to fire off a few malicious emails between the afternoon samovar break and early evening cocktails. Convinced? No, me neither.

Actually, there are some interesting statistics in the report. If they’re reliable, some assumptions that we make about geographical distribution, for example, might bear re-examination. But I’d really have to suggest that journalists in search of something new to say about malware examine some of the report’s interpretations with a little more salt and scepticism. I suppose I should be grateful that no-one has noticed yet that according to the report, twice as many attacks originate in the Netherlands as do in China. Just think of the sub-editorial puns that could inspire…

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
Small Blue-Green World/AVIEN
ESET Senior Research Fellow

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