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Rise of the botnets

Honeynet Project lifts the lid on zombie networks

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Botnets - networks of compromised PCs - launched 226 distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on 99 different targets in a three-month period from November 2004 to January 2005, according to a study from The Honeynet Project.

The report, Know your Enemy: Tracking Botnets, estimates a population of approximately one million infected hosts is under the control of computer crackers. The findings come from monitoring a network of PCs deliberately left open to attack in order to track and study in detail the actions of attackers and the tools they use. The project, run by the German Honeynet Project, also monitored IRC channels used to control botnets. What emerged from the study is the most detailed technical description of the modus-operandi of botnets we've seen to date.

The project tracked more than 100 active botnets, some with up to 50,000 compromised "zombie" machines. It saw 226,585 unique IP addresses joining at least one of the monitored channels which represent only a small proportion of overall botnets activity. Based on these figures The Honeynet Project conservatively estimates that "more then one million hosts are compromised and can be controlled by malicious attackers,"

Botnets are being used for a variety of nefarious criminal or malicious purposes including: distributing spam, mounting distributed denial of service attacks, sniffing network traffic for unencrypted passwords, key logging, installing spyware and click fraud targeting Google's AdWords program. The study also details the most common zombie agents used in the creation of botnets such as Agobot (AKA Phatbot), SDBot and various mIRC-based bots.

"Our research shows that some attackers are highly skilled and organized, potentially belonging to well-organized crime structures," the report concludes. "Leveraging the power of several thousand bots, it is viable to take down almost any website or network instantly. Even in unskilled hands, it should be obvious that botnets are a loaded and powerful weapon." ®

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