DoD mailing lists left wide open

Virus spoofing defences backfire

A semblance of order has been restored to US Department of Defence mailing lists after an automated attempt to inject the Klez virus onto two lists indirectly led to a message storm.

Although the infectious attachment was stripped out, the message text (which as is common with Klez came from a spoofed email address) made its way onto the two supposedly moderated lists (including the DoD news list) on Friday morning (February 14). The original infected message likely originated from the machine of an infected list subscriber, rather than through a directed attack.

In any case, attempts by technicians to prevent messages using spoofed Defense Technology Information Center (DTIC) headers propagating onto the list made matters far worse. A side effect of the changes they made left the list more - not less - insecure.

"We didn't realize that the effect of the settings we had changed would leave the subscription list open, giving anyone the ability to post messages to the entire list," Terry Davis, manager of the Public Web Program in the Office of the Secretary of Defense told Federal Computer Week. "And we definitely underestimated how much people like to talk."

Indeed.

Folowing the duff changes, pandemonium broke out as numerous people sent replies to the erroneous message and spam messages that were now being broadcast through the list.

Reg reader Andy Foster, who subscribes to the DoD news list, provides a first-hand account.

"Spammers quickly jumped on board and started spamming via the list. It appears that the DPS IT guys finally fixed it Saturday night after 5:30 pm EST. The original message bearing the ROCK.EXE [Klez] worm that started this mess was first sent out at 11:58 am on Friday - nearly 36 hours!"

"Is that some kind of new world record for regaining control?"

Foster notes that the people who responded one way, or another, to spam messages are now likely on spammers' databases.

Davis, speaking to Federal Computer Week, acknowledges that "people who replied to the entire list exposed themselves to thousands of other people".

Those people include spammers, we'd add.

That seems to be the main fallout from the cock-up and its worth repeating that, unlike similar incidents with other organisations in the past, a virus was NOT sent onto the list and the mailing list was not taken over. The list was just left wide open. ®

Staff running the list have apologised for any inconvenience in a message we reproduce below:

From: DOD NEWS LIST [mailto:DODNEWS-L@DTIC.MIL]On Behalf Of Davis, Terry
W., A&M IRM
Sent: Sunday, February 16, 2003 8:18 PM
To: DODNEWS-L@DTIC.MIL
Subject: Unauthorized Postings

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Dear Subscribers,

While working to strengthen our ability to prevent unauthorized postings on our mailing lists, we briefly had two of them in a mode that allowed subscribers to post messages. The lists are now set to prevent postings other than those we generate. I apologize for the inconvenience and confusion that this may have caused you. Please be assured that all possible diligence is exercised to prevent such events.

Sincerely,
Terry Davis
Manager, OSD Public Web Program
-- News Releases: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/releases.html
-- DoD News: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/dodnews.html
-- Subscribe/Unsubscribe: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/dodnews.html#e-mail
-- Today in DoD: http://www.defenselink.mil/today

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