Feeds

Dodgy drug sales underpin Storm worm

The bitterest pill

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Illegal pharmaceutical supply chain outfits have become the main customers of botnet farmers. Spam-pushing botnets, such as that established by the Storm worm, are raking it in advertising dodgy drug websites, according to a study by security appliance firm IronPort.

Four out of five junk emails distributed through the Storm botnet advertise online pharmacy brands. The storm botnet has become a full-service ecommerce operation with a complex supply chain, according to IronPort's 2008 Internet Malware Trends: Storm and the Future of Social Engineering.

Spam templates, website designs, credit card processing, product shipment and even customer support are being provided by the Russian cybercrooks behind the Storm worm, according to IronPort, the spam filtering appliance division of networking giant Cisco. Malware authors recruit botnet spamming partners to promote illegal pharmacy websites, receiving commissions of as much as 40 per cent on the resulting sales.

The prescription drugs on offer were sent to people who were not examined by a doctor first, risking their health on dodgy male potency drugs and the like. IronPort made a number of purchases of spamvertised drugs. Subsequent pharmacological testing found that two-thirds of the shipments failed to include the correct dosage of an active ingredient while the rest were sugar pills (placebos).

Smoking gun

IronPort's study fills in the detail about the relationship between botnet masters and penis pill spammers, a business it reckons generates tens of millions a year. "Our research has revealed a smoking gun that shows that Storm and other botnet spam generates commissionable orders, which are then fulfilled by the supply chains, generating revenue in excess of $150m per year." said Patrick Peterson, vice president of technology at IronPort.

The Storm worm (more accurately called a Trojan) turns over control of infected PCs to botmasters. Either social engineering trickery or web-based exploits are used to load up malware onto victimised PCs. IronPort reckons a total of 40 million computers have been infected by Storm in the period between January 2007 and February 2008. The actual number of infected machines at any one time is, of course, much lower than this.

Storm was considered to account for one in five spam messages at its peak of 1.4 million compromised PCs in July 2007, though the number infected by Storm has dropped off since then. Storm now represents only a "tiny sliver" of the spam deluge, estimated by IronPort to rack up to 186 billion messages a day. Despite this ratcheting down in activity new variants of Storm continue to appear. Other botnet agents - such as Bobax, Kraken and Srizbi - have emerged to eclipse Storm.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Next page: Spam 2.0

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
Carders punch holes through Staples
Investigation launched into East Coast stores
Kill off SSL 3.0 NOW: HTTPS savaged by vicious POODLE
Pull it out ASAP, it is SWISS CHEESE
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.