Inside McAfee Labs: how antivirus is saving you from an identity crisis

10th Jul 2012 | 10:00

Inside McAfee Labs: how antivirus is saving you from an identity crisis

Working with Intel, curbing online threats and how much your data is actually worth

Inside McAfee Labs

With the amount of connected devices in the world edging ever closer to 50 billion, securing consumers on the web has never been so multifaceted.

To understand just what is needed to protect every user – as well as every device that connects to the internet – TechRadar visited McAfee Labs in Amsterdam and spoke to the very people that deal with tackling web threats every single day.

According to McAfee, a whopping 6 million PCs become infected with bots every month, there's 65,000 pieces of new malware every day and one in five people are hit by cybercrime every year.

While not all of these pieces of malicious code are given the time of day in the press, occasionally a threat is so extensive it will affect millions of users. We've seen this recently with Flame – a bundle of malware that came in a rather large 20MB package. There was so much malware in the Flame payload that it would have taken a lab such as McAfee's 10 years to analyse it.

It was littered with keylogging software and screen-capture technology and had the potential to devastate even the most protected computers. The kicker was that it had an automatic delete function – it was made by people that just wanted to show the world what they could do, and was luckily spotted by McAfee's rival's Kaspersky.

Before this there was Stuxnet, which was aimed at Iran and all about controlling weaponry – an altogether more sinister prospect.

But, according to McAfee, one of the biggest issues around AV at the moment is that of data theft and how easy we are all making it for criminals to essentially clone us online.

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McAfee: "Everybody has a price. There is something out there that will make you click on a link."

"All your details have a value of some sort and there are people out there who will steal personal data and try and sell it," explained Raj Samani, VP chief technical officer EMEA at McAfee.

"In 2006, Operation Motorman found how much money data was worth - there is an industry out there extracting personal data.

"One 'information broker' earned £50,000 a month from one client alone. We just don't realise the scale of personal data theft."

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And even if our information isn't found by paid information brokers, there are plenty of dodgy emails around to entice us to click on a link that will mine our computers for information.

"Everybody has a price. There is something out there that will interest you and make you click on a link," said Jon Carpenter, technical product manager at McAfee Labs.

"So, what is your price? Would it be 10 million, would you believe it if you had, say, won 10 million?

If it's 10 pounds then it is more believable. So, you can essentially get duped for the price of a tenner. These viruses work because we are so simple."

Going viral

Regardless of viruses, the data trail we leave behind on the web is startling. Whether we know it or not, we scatter digital breadcrumbs everywhere.

McAfee: "The amount of personal data Facebook holds on individuals is the most we have ever known."

"When it comes to personal data – you have behavioural, derived data. If you enter your details into a website that is logged, you have volunteered that information," said Samani to TechRadar.

"But do you know the affiliates that get this data? Have a look at the applications on your smartphone – things like Foursquare, Yelp... all of this data is stored.

"There is a yawning gap between what people believe is happening and what is happening today. Data value is simply enormous."

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As Samani explained, suddenly Facebook's initial valuation of $108 billion doesn't look that silly.

"The amount of personal data Facebook holds on individuals is the most we have ever known and personal data has a significant, enormous value."

Born identity

Identity is part of McAfee's three tenets of security – data and anti-malware make up the triumvirate – and it is confident that its buyout by Intel in 2011 will improve its reach for both customers and consumers.

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"Intel believes that security is the third pillar of computing," said Gary Davis, director WW consumer product marketing.

"The span of enterprises that use McAfee was part of the decision and they also wanted an industry leader.

"We are driven by our partnerships. It is a rich and meaningful portfolio of partners and those are the main reasons Intel chose McAfee."

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Davis also hinted at what is to come with security and Intel's chips.

"The amount of security technology that is in IvyBridge dwarfs anything before it. We are looking to work together to solve the problems that consumers have.

"It's important that security works from the moment that you turn your device on. We are working from the bottom up – hardware protection built into the start-up process."

"The next generation Intel device is everything you can imagine. The Medfield smartphone, Clover Trail tablet, Ultrabooks – McAfee is making sure that all of these different form factors are protected."

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It's these form factors that have given AV companies something of a headache over the years. McAfee and other antivirus companies aren't just looking at desktops and laptops anymore, there's phones, tablets and even TVs to protect now as well.

McAfee: "In the first quarter of this year we saw a 12 hundred per cent increase in Android malware."

"In the first quarter of this year we saw a 12 hundred per cent increase in malware centred on Android devices," explained Davis to TechRadar.

"And IPTV provides a huge opportunity for hackers so we need to make sure our software works on all fronts."

McAfee has 6,500 dedicated employees, 350 researchers scattered across the globe there are 125 million McAfee users in the world.

But, despite all this, vigilance by the consumer is still the key to making sure a computer virus doesn't ruin our online lives – especially when it comes to surfing even the friendliest of sites on the web.

"Porn sites today are the most protected websites in the industry – you won't get malware from them," explained Davis.

"If you go to your local pub site, though, there may well be viruses there as their servers just aren't as protected.

"As much as we can write the best code, the consumer itself can only act in its best interest."

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