Feeds

The strange death of the mass mailing virus

We are all zombies now

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

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

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
NUDE SNAPS AGENCY: NSA bods love 'showing off your saucy selfies'
Swapping other people's sexts is a fringe benefit, says Snowden
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.