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Storm Worm turns one

Many unhappy returns

Website security in corporate America

Thursday marked the first anniversary of the infamous Storm Worm. Created by a Russian-based criminal network, the malware rapidly infected millions of PCs in Europe and North America and continues to be a problem.

The Storm Worm malware (more properly known as a Trojan) strain first surfaced on 17 January 2007, in emails attempting to trick users into visiting maliciously-constructed websites under the guise of messages offering information about the storms ravaging Europe at the time.

Over recent months crackers have refined their tactics. Emails punting the malware now contain fake links to YouTube, for example. Hackers have also attempted to trick users into visiting maliciously-constructed websites via login-confirmation spam or bogus electronic greeting card receipts. Most recently Storm Worm lures posed as Valentine's Card greetings.

Since the recent Christmas greeting and Valentine's Card variants, security companies have begun to think that the malware authors behind the Storm Worm are getting ideas for fresh variants from speculative posts from security firms.

The main attack methodology - tricking users into visiting maliciously constructed websites that attempt to load botnet clients onto vulnerable PCs - has remained much the same. The ability of the malware to adapt a variety of social engineering tricks in an attempt to infect gullible users has become one of the hallmarks of its success.

Compromised machines, however they are infected, become zombie clients under the control of hackers. The Storm Worm was the first botnet client to be based on a peer-to-peer (P2P) command and control protocol, an approach that makes networks of compromised PCs far more difficult to shut down. Over the last year, the Storm Worm has infected millions of Windows machines around the world.

Through analysis of the tactics used, net security services firm MessageLabs reckons that the StormWorm gang is a small group of young adults, likely to be in their early 20s, and from Russia. Storm Worm’s closest rival botnet, Warezov, is likely to be Asian in origin.

It is unlikely that the Storm Worm gang is an organised criminal group, MessageLabs thinks. Analysts at the firm reckon it much more likely that the gang is "largely constructed of a loose affiliation of disconnected but highly-specialised individuals and small groups", united by a common purpose of making money from malware.

Compromised machines (proxies) are sent out on the digital underground as resources for hackers to launch denial of service attacks, or more commonly to distribute spam.

Secure Computing, which has been tracking the Storm Worm malware since its inception, reckons an average of 5,500 new PCs are being abused daily as part of the group of botnets created by various versions of the malware. The firm has set up a StormTracker portal as a way of sharing data among researchers and organisations looking to protect themselves and others against the threat posed by the malware. ®

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