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Conficker Group muses on hits and misses

New report puts whack-a-worm tactics to bed

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The Conficker Working Group has hailed its success in neutralising domains programmed to act as control hubs for the infamous worm, while lamenting its failure to mount a comprehensive clean-up operation against infected PCs or to bring its authors to justice.

Members of the Group reflect on the long battle against the infamous worm - which is inert, but still resident on an estimated seven million Windows PCs in 200 countries - in a (new report (pdf). It concludes that a “whack-a-mole” approach to fighting security incidents will not work, and the fight against malware should be viewed as a long-term battle.

Conficker first appeared in November 2008, prompting Microsoft and a consortium of the leading internet security providers including Trend Micro, Sophos and VeriSign to team up and fight the scourge. This was done chiefly through a combination of user education and by blocking or seizing control of domains that variants of Conficker were programmed to phone home for instructions on malicious activities.

Government bodies, ISPs and domain name registrars also got involved in the collective effort, which successfully prevented hackers from controlling the vast network of infected PCs they had established.

The effort was unprecedented at the time but formed a template for the later Mariposa Working Group, and a model for public-private partnerships against fast moving malware infections.

Rodney Joffe, senior technologist at Neustar and director of the Conficker Working Group, commented: “The Conficker Working Group was an overwhelming success in demonstrating how the global community, public and private, can (and should in the future) come together to combat common threats. However it is also a clear example of how this "best of breed" cooperation is generally powerless to stop determined attacks - Conficker remains undefeated, and no arrests have yet been made.

"The operation was a complete success; unfortunately the patient died,” he concluded.

Conficker (aka Downadup) initially spread using a then recently patched vulnerability in Windows Server Service to worm its way into insecure systems. The malware also spread via infected USB sticks, which became its main route of infection as time went on.

The malware's aggressive scanning routines created a great deal of collateral damage by flooding networks with bandwidth-sucking traffic. Early victims included the Houses of Parliament and the UK's Ministry of Defence.

Months later secondary infections began cropping up in a variety of hospitals. Infection of the network of Greater Manchester Police obliged the force to take the unprecedented step of suspending access to the police national computer, as a precaution against the further spread of the worm and pending the completion of a clean-up operation, for several days back in February 2010. ®

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