Feeds

Bot herders hide master control channel in Google cloud

Google AppEngine co-opted

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

Cyber criminals' love affair with cloud computing just got steamier with the discovery that Google's AppEngine was tapped to act as the master control channel that feeds commands to large networks of infected computers.

The custom application was used to relay download commands to PCs that had already been infected and made part of a botnet, said Jose Nazario, the manager of security research at Arbor Networks. Google shut down the rogue app shortly after being notified of it.

The discovery is the latest to highlight bot herders' growing embrace of the cloud, in which applications and data are hosted on large, publicly available servers instead of stand-alone machines. Last Friday, researchers from Symantec found a Facebook account pumping commands to zombie drones. And in August, Nazario found several Twitter accounts that were doing much the same thing.

Also on Monday, researchers from anti-virus provider Trend Micro reported that the massive Koobface botnet was abusing Google Reader to spam malicious links to Facebook and other social networking sites.

Black hat hackers are being drawn to the cloud by many of the same benefits attracting everyone else, namely cheap and scalable processing exactly when it's needed. But they also like the anonymity and obscurity that come from using many such services.

"It's the low cost, it's the high availability," Nazario told The Reg. "And the security measures in place for most of these things are retroactive, meaning it takes somebody to identify and investigate and take them down. You're really free to swim in the huge flood of user generated content, as long as you don't stick out too much."

Google's AppEngine provides a framework for running custom applications that can handle requests from millions of computers. The app spotted by Nazario appeared to recycle code from Grey Pigeon and Hupigon toolkits available in the attacker underground.

Infected PCs that checked in with the malicious app were instructed to download the PCClient backdoor from a third-party server. Because the channel software was hosted on the heavily fortified Google, he was unable to get his hands on the source code itself or to observe other commands it may have carried out.

And that may be another reason why black hats are flocking to the cloud.

"Going to a company as big as Google and saying 'Can we get an image of that server,' that's a pretty high barrier," he said. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Attackers raid SWISS BANKS with DNS and malware bombs
'Retefe' trojan uses clever spin on old attacks to grant total control of bank accounts
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.