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 Monday, September 10, 2007

Researchers say the growing botnet has enough distributed power to launch a damaging attack against major businesses or even countries. The Storm worm botnet has grown so massive and far-reaching that it easily overpowers the world's top supercomputers. That's the latest word from security researchers who are tracking the burgeoning network of machines that have been compromised by the virulent Storm worm, which has pounded the Internet non-stop for the past three months. Despite the wide ranging estimates as to the size of the botnet, researchers tend to agree that it's one of the largest zombie grids they've ever seen. According to Matt Sergeant, chief anti-spam technologist with MessageLabs, "in terms of power, [the botnet] utterly blows the supercomputers away. If you add up all 500 of the top supercomputers, it blows them all away with just 2 million of its machines. It's very frightening that criminals have access to that much computing power, but there's not much we can do about it." Sergeant adds that researchers at MessageLabs see about 2 million different computers in the botnet sending out spam on any given day, and he estimates the botnet generally is operating at about 10% of capacity. Adam Swidler, a senior manager with security company Postini, told InformationWeek that while he thinks the botnet is in the 1 million to 2 million range, he still thinks it can easily overpower a major supercomputer.

Cyber criminals who control the botnet have a tremendous amount of destructive power. Early this summer, the Baltic nation of Estonia was pounded in a cyberwar that saw distributed denial-of-service attack primarily targeting the Estonian government, banking, media, and police sites.

Last month, Ren-Isac, a collaboration of higher-education security researchers, sent out a warning that the Storm worm authors had another trick up their sleeves. The botnet actually is attacking computers that are trying to weed it out. It's set up to launch a distributed denial-of-service attack against any computer that is scanning a network for vulnerabilities or malware. The warning noted that researchers have seen "numerous" Storm-related DoS attacks recently. MessageLabs' Sergeant said the botnet also has been launching DoS attacks against anti-spam organizations and even individual researchers who have been investigating it. "If a researcher is repeatedly trying to pull down the malware to examine it the botnet knows you're a researcher and launches an attack against you," he said.

Lawrence Baldwin, chief forensic officer of MyNetWatchman.com, said he doesn't have a handle on how big the overall botnet has become but he's calculated that 5,000 to 6,000 computers are being used just to host the malicious Web sites that the Storm worm spam e-mails are linking users to. And he added that while the now-well-known e-cards and fake news spam is being used to build up the already massive botnet, the authors are using pump-and-dump scams to make money. Swidler said that since mid-July, Postini researchers have recorded 1.2 billion e-mails that have been spit out by the botnet. A record was set on Aug. 22 when 57 million virus-infected messages -- 99% of them from the Storm worm -- were tracked crossing the Internet. According to researchers at SecureWorks, the botnet sent out 6,927 e-mails in June to the company's 1,800 customers. In July, that number ballooned to 20,193,134. Since Aug. 8, they've counted 10,218,196.

Read full article at InformationWeek.