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Anti-spam sites under spam fire

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For all that, the techniques are not new, said Joe Stewart, senior security researcher with SecureWorks. Stewart penned last week's analysis connecting Storm Worm to the denial-of-service attacks.

"I don't think Storm is any large step forward," Stewart said. "Everything it does, we have seen in one form or another before. Someone has sat down and decided what they wanted and built it out of technology that is already out there."

Attacks on rival spam gangs and anti-spam sites are not that unique either. Yet, the people who are propagating the Storm Worm have not been shy about the attacks, Stewart said. Attacks were also leveled at anti-spam site SpamNation, which maintains a list of the latest stock touts, and money transfer site CapitalCollect.

"The spam war is escalating to new levels," wrote Stewart in an analysis posted on SecureWorks' blog. In the analysis, he pointed to the successful attack on anti-spam firm Blue Security as possibly emboldening the spammers. That company folded after the May 2006 assault.

"With no repercussions from that attack, or even older attacks which shut down certain DNS blacklists, it seems that more spammers are willing and able to attack anyone who threatens their profit potential," he said.

That includes rivals. The Storm Worm botnets attacked five websites associated with a competing program, Warezov. The reason is clear, said SpamNation's anonymous editor: Spammers that are about to pump up one stock don't want their competitor blunting the effect or confuse the potential marks by pumping a different stock.

"It shouldn't come as any surprise to learn that spammers are fighting amongst themselves," the editor wrote in a recent post. "The fiercest competitors of any organism are other members of its own species, which compete for the same food and resources that it needs to survive and breed."

Warfare among malware writers is standard fare. The author of variants of the Netsky virus often taunted the writers of MyDoom and Bagle. In 2005, the groups behind different variants of the Zotob virus attempted to attack and control the machines compromised by their competitors.

In this case, the battle between the two groups pits gangs of two nationalities against each other, according to SecureWorks' Stewart. All signs indicate that Warezov is used by attackers based in China, Stewart said. Botnets created with the Trojan horse program take commands from servers in China and the code uses the MEW packer, a compression utility favoured by the Chinese because it has releases in Mandarin.

The Storm Worm on the other hand uses packers favored by Russian groups and has connections to servers based in Russia, he said.

While the attacks have moved beyond a war of egos, they remain bold just the same. And without much luck in hunting down the people behind the bot nets, it may not get better, Stewart said.

"It seems like they feel they're in a position where they are untouchable," he said.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2007, SecurityFocus

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