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Universities and schools worst hit

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The Internet Storm Centre's assessment agreed that the bot software appears to only be spreading at a moderate pace and only among universities and colleges, with a few exceptions.

"The spam and the scanning seems to be widespread, while the reports of infection have come from edu's (educational institutions) and a few home users," Mike Poor, an incident handler at the Internet Storm Centre and a security analyst with Intelguardians, said in an email interview with SecurityFocus.

The slow infection speed surprised Scott Fendley, a security analyst with the University of Arkansas and an incident handler with the ISC. While Fendley estimated that thousands of the school's computers were vulnerable to the Symantec flaw, only about 30 systems were actually infected.

"We are currently attempting to understand why this did not propagate faster or infect other hosts on campus," he told SecurityFocus in an email interview.

The software does not appear to explicitly be targeting educational institutions, according to Symantec's Weafer (see correction). However, because schools have less strict policies regarding upgrading critical software, students and academic faculty may be the most vulnerable, Fendley said.

"As university environments are very decentralised, group policies and other mechanisms used to keep software up-to-date and well managed, may or may not exist," he said. "So one department may have completed the upgrades, when the office next door is still using a much older version."

Bots created with the the SpyBot software connect to Internet Relay Chat and await commands. The software attempts to detect if it's been quarantined in a honey pot by looking for the signs of a virtual machine and debugger software. The program uses the File Transfer Protocol to copy software onto compromised hosts.

Symantec recommended that users of its Client Security and Antivirus Corporate Edition update to the latest version of the software.

CORRECTION: The article attributed the assertion that the bot program was not explicitly targeting educational institutions to the wrong person. Vincent Weafer of Symantec stated that the attack did not seem to be targeted.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus

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