Feeds

Countdown to Conficker activation begins

A superbotnet will rise

Top three mobile application threats

Security watchers are bracing themselves to respond to the activitation of the huge botnet created by the Conficker superworm.

The malware has created a network of infected PCs under its control estimated at 9m or even more, according to the latest estimates — dwarfing the zombie army created by the infamous Storm worm, which reached a comparatively paltry 1m at its peak in September 2007.

Variants of Conficker (aka Downadup), which began circulating in late November, exploit the MS08-067 vulnerability in the Microsoft Windows server service addressed by Redmond with an out-of-sequence patch last October.

The malware also infects removable devices and network shares using a special autorun file. The worm uses social engineering trickery so that users on Windows machines looking to simply browse the contents of a memory stick may be tricked into selecting an option that actually runs a malware payload and infects their PC.

Some variants are programmed to spread across machines in the same local area network. Weak passwords in corporates have therefore aided the distribution of the worm.

The multiple infections techniques - none of which, incidentally, feature email — has fuelled the prolific spread of the worm. It’s been years since any worm has spread so widely. In many ways the Conficker worm epidemic represents a return to the bad old days of worms such as Nimda, Blaster and Sasser.

It only takes one rotten apple

In the case of Conficker, security watchers reckon the fact that the worm only needs to hit one infected machine in a network to spread goes a long way towards explaining its success. Slow patching, particularly in corporates, has also contributed to the epidemic.

“We haven’t seen this type of advanced worm in many years,” Eric Schultze, CTO of patching firm Shavlik Technologies told El Reg. “It’s successful because once a single machine is infected in a corporate environment, it can spread itself to all of the other corporate machines, whether they’ve been patched or not.

“In terms of damage it can do, some reports say the worm is a dud but I believe that it’s simply ‘sleeping’ and may be woken up at a future date to execute some set of evil instructions. Even if never executed, the worm turns off the windows update service and blocks access to many security vendor websites [blocking uptake of new antivirus signatures].

“To many, these actions alone may be considered malicious.”

Net security firm Sophos reckons that business users have been harder hit than consumers by the spread of the worm. The malware has caught some firms on the hop because they haven’t rolled out patches, it figures.

Superworms return

Theories on why we haven’t seen a worm of this type for three or four years are thin on the ground. It may be that writing such a worm (even if it pinches parts of its code from Metasploit, the open-source penetration testing tool) is simply too much like hard work.

“It’s more effort to write malware that exploits a new vulnerability than, say, regular executable malware that is emailed or shoved on web,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at anti-virus firm Sophos. “If email or web attacks work just fine, then why go to extra effort?”

“These guys aren’t doing it for intellectual challenge or showing-off. Money is the motive.”

Despite the noteable lack of network worms over recent years the approach — much like spreading computer viruses using infected email attachments — has always been an option for miscreants.

“Hackers never completely abandon old tricks,” Cluley continued. “They can always dust them off and use them again. For example, there was a huge increase is infected email attachments last year year. It’s a danger to think we have any particular attack strategy licked.”

Cluley, like other security researchers, credited Microsoft for releasing a clean-up tool in January after publishing a patch in October, while noting the software giant bears significant responsibility for creating the security vulnerability that allowed the worm to spread in the first place.

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

Next page: Defcon

More from The Register

next story
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Heartbleed exploit, inoculation, both released
File under 'this is going to hurt you more than it hurts me'
Canadian taxman says hundreds pierced by Heartbleed SSL skewer
900 social insurance numbers nicked, says revenue watchman
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
Burnt out on patches this month? Oracle's got 104 MORE fixes for you
Mass patch for issues across its software catalog
Reddit users discover iOS malware threat
'Unflod Baby Panda' looks to snatch Apple IDs
Oracle working on at least 13 Heartbleed fixes
Big Red's cloud is safe and Oracle Linux 6 has been patched, but Java has some issues
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.