The U.S. Sony Playstation website is the latest high-profile victim of a hacker attack on business sites that's spreading malware at breakneck pace, says a security vendor. Sophos reported that Sony had suffered an SQL injection attack Wednesday. Malicious code was planted on pages of two popular Playstation games -- SingStar Pop and God of War. The digital security company alerted Sony to the problem, and it was fixed as of early Thursday morning, says Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant with Sophos headquartered in Abingdon, U.K. While the Playstation site is now clean, hundreds of other websites have been compromised by the same attack, he says. Affected sites are wide ranging, says Cluley, "from Brazilian and Chinese government sites to a garden pond supplier in Canada." The SQL injection attack is an old hacker trick that has found new life. Its usage in recent months has soared, as cyber criminals use automated programs to scour the Web for pages and sites vulnerable to such exploits. The attacks have transformed thousands of credible business web pages on sites such as MSNBC into malware-peddling portals. Attacks have ballooned in recent months. There is now a new malware-infected Web page every five seconds, according to Sophos. That's three times the rate of infection compared to last year. Eight out of 10 Web sites suffering from the attack are legitimate business websites. "There's been a spate of attacks being called by a botnet named Asprox," Cluley says. "It's using innocent people's computers to go on the web and find vulnerable targets." An automated attack is to blame for the Sony hack, he adds. It wasn't launched by a person, but an automated program that stumbled upon the code vulnerability on the Playstation pages and took advantage. The attacks don't exploit a specific software vulnerability, but take advantage of poor coding practices, according to a Microsoft Security Advisory. Companies that access and manipulate data in a relational database such as SQL Server from a website are at risk. It comes down to a problem with a web application, says Brian Bourne, president of Toronto-based security analyst firm CMS Consulting Inc. Developers are failing to do proper code checking to prevent the attacks.
"They're not doing input validation," he explains. "They're not looking at it and saying 'hey, this is not regular user input' -- that's the simple version." But web administrators have to shoulder the burden of blame too, Bourne adds. They're responsible for creating a layered security approach to protect against known and yet-to-be-discovered exploits. Here are the tools and tips passed on by Microsoft and Bourne: Detect: Hewlett Packard has developed a free scan that can identify whether a website is susceptible to SQL injection attacks. HP Scrawlr can be downloaded at the HP Security Centre. Test: Toronto-based company Security Compass has a suite of plug-in tools that can be used with the Firefox browser. Web developers have the convenience of looking for SQL injection vulnerabilities with the click of a button. Download SQL Inject-Me. Defend:Scrutinise more carefully the HTTP requests being made by SQL commands on a website. A Microsoft security tool will allow you to put restrictions on what the Internet Information Services will process from the server. It could block harmful requests from ever getting to the web application. Download URLScan Tool 3.0 Beta. Identify: For those using ASP code on their websites, another Microsoft tool can analyse the code and then output a display of the areas that are vulnerable to SQL injection. The tool also comes with documentation that actually tells users how to fix the different problems that could be found in the code analysed. Download the Microsoft Source Code Analyser for SQL Injection at Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 954476.