Feeds

The strange death of the mass mailing virus

We are all zombies now

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Mass mailing viruses will go the way of macro viruses and become much rarer next year. Viruses such as Sober and MyDoom are simply not as effective as they used to be, Kevin Hogan, a Symantec Europe manager, notes. "People know it’s risky to double click on viruses. For virus writers there's no technical kudos. Also mass mailing viruses are noisy, bringing attention to themselves, and that goes against the trend of developing malware that hides its presence on infected systems," he said.

Last year Hogan predicted browser vulnerabilities would become less important in 2004: "I've had to eat my words on that. IE vulnerabilities are often used to surreptitiously load malware onto people's PCs. Client side flaws will continue to be important next year."

Once upon a time, Virus writers were motivated by notoriety, but now the profit motive is more important. The use of keylogging Trojans in phishing scams is one way they can make money. Selling access to botnets - networks of compromised machines - is another potential money-spinner, as is adware.

According to Hogan, adware purveyors are becoming more aggressive about getting their code onto PCs. Adware that uses software vulnerabilities to spread, hide itself and that is difficult to uninstall is becoming more common, he says.

Rise of the machines

The first half of 2004 saw a huge increase in zombie PCs. Also called bots, their average numbers rose between January and June from under 2,000 to more than 30,000 per day - peaking at 75,000 on one day, Symantec reports.

Botnets are computers infected by worms or Trojans and taken over surreptitiously by hackers and brought into networks to send spam, more viruses, or launch denial of service attacks. Increased collaboration, at least in development, between malware authors means this problem is likely to get worse in 2005.

Mass mailing viruses such as SoBig and Trojans such as Gaobot (AKA Phatbot or Agobot), Randex and Spybot are used to create botnets. The source code for Gaobot is in the public domain and has been modified and reposted by "thousands worldwide". "Gaobot has a plug-in architecture. If you want to add exploit code there are people to help you modify it," Hogan says.

How to hijack a botnet

The easy availability of "common or shared source malware" makes it easier to develop customised attacks. This pooling of knowledge creates a means for crackers to steal access to compromised machines. "You don't have to go to the trouble of setting up a botnet, you can steal it," Hogan explains. "If you know the IRC channel compromised machines join and the Gaobot command set you can hijack access. You can get compromised machines to run a customised version of Gaobot that logs them onto a new channel."

Symantec reckons virus writers and those who run botnets are two distinct groups.

"It takes a lot of effort to maintain a botnet, keeping a record of which machines are alive and which are dead. Maintaining a botnet detracts from time spent writing new worms and the skills are different," Nolan says. ®

Related stories

Rise of the Botnets
Who would you like to attack today?
'White collar' virus writers make cash from chaos
Zombie PCs spew out 80% of spam
Phatbot arrest throws open trade in zombie PCs

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Regin: The super-spyware the security industry has been silent about
NSA fingered as likely source of complex malware family
Why did it take antivirus giants YEARS to drill into super-scary Regin? Symantec responds...
FYI this isn't just going to target Windows, Linux and OS X fans
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
HACKERS can DELETE SURVEILLANCE DVRS remotely – report
Hikvision devices wide open to hacking, claim securobods
'Regin': The 'New Stuxnet' spook-grade SOFTWARE WEAPON described
'A degree of technical competence rarely seen'
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
You stupid BRICK! PCs running Avast AV can't handle Windows fixes
Fix issued, fingers pointed, forums in flames
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing and building an open ITOA architecture
Learn about a new IT data taxonomy defined by the four data sources of IT visibility: wire, machine, agent, and synthetic data sets.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.