Attacks/Breaches
6/6/2013
10:26 AM
50%
50%

Microsoft, FBI Trumpet Citadel Botnet Takedowns

Joint operation is first in which law enforcement and private sector use civil seizure warrant to disrupt massive malware attack.

The Syrian Electronic Army: 9 Things We Know
(click image for larger view)
The Syrian Electronic Army: 9 Things We Know
Microsoft and FBI Wednesday announced that in a joint operation, they took down over 1,000 Citadel botnets that were being used to control millions of malware-infected PCs.

Over the past 18 months, authorities believe the botnets stole over $500 million from consumer and business bank accounts, infecting more than 5 million PCs located in 90 countries, including the United States, Australia, Hong Kong, India and large parts of Western Europe.

The takedown began last week, when Microsoft filed a civil lawsuit against the botnet "herders" running 1,463 Citadel botnets. Using a court-ordered seizure request and working with U.S. Marshalls, Microsoft employees seized servers from two hosting facilities in New Jersey and Philadelphia and provided information about the botnets to overseas Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), requesting that they target related command-and-control infrastructure. The FBI simultaneously provided related information to its overseas law enforcement counterparts.

[ Zeus is back with a vengeance. Here's how to protect yourself and your business. Zeus Malware Returns, Targets SMBs. ]

A related complaint, unsealed Wednesday, charged a "John Doe" who uses the alias "Aquabox" with being the mastermind behind the botnet gang and managing a group of over 80 "botnet herders" around the world who controlled groups of Citadel-infected PCs.

While Microsoft has previously participated in seven botnet takedowns, this operation marks the first time that law enforcement and the private sector have worked together in this way to execute a civil seizure warrant as part of a botnet disruption operation, according to a blog post by Richard Domingues Boscovich, assistant general counsel for Microsoft's digital crimes unit.

As with many types of malware, Citadel used malicious code to not only infect PCs but also resist attempts to remove it. "During our investigation we found that Citadel blocked victims' access to many legitimate anti-virus/anti-malware sites, making it so people may not have been able to easily remove this threat from their computer," said Boscovich. "However, with the disruptive action, victims should now be able to access these previously blocked sites."

According to Microsoft, the gang behind the Citadel botnets infected PCs in part by selling pirated versions of the Windows XP operating system that they'd pre-infected with the malware.

The Citadel takedown was a joint effort involving not just Microsoft and the FBI, but also U.S. Marshals Service. In addition, the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC), the Electronic Payments Association (NACHA) and the American Bankers Association (ABA) supported Microsoft's civil lawsuit by detailing how the botnets had been used to steal online banking credentials and execute fraudulent transactions. Likewise, security firm Agari detailed how the botnets had been built -- in part -- via phishing emails disguised to look like communications from legitimate financial services firms.

The FBI said this Citadel botnet takedown was part of a larger effort, coordinated by the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF), which is targeting botnet creators and distributors.

Will this takedown have a permanent impact on the number of Citadel botnets in operation? "Due to Citadel's size and complexity, we do not expect to fully take out all of the botnets in the world using the Citadel malware," said Microsoft's Boscovich. "However, we do expect that this action will significantly disrupt Citadel's operation, helping quickly release victims from the threat and making it riskier and more costly for the cybercriminals to continue doing business."

Still, the takedown may serve as only a temporary setback for Aquabox's gang. "While it's good to see botnets like Citadel being shut down, without arrests I feel we are simply treating symptoms rather than the disease," tweeted Brian Honan, CEO of the Irish Reporting and Information Security Service, which is Ireland's CERT.

But FBI assistant executive director Richard McFeely said the bureau is working with its overseas counterparts to identify the people responsible as part of an already "fairly advanced" criminal probe. "We are upping the game in our level of commitment in going after botnet creators and distributors," McFeely told Reuters. "This is a more concerted effort to engage our foreign partners to assist us in identifying, locating and -- if we can -- get U.S. criminal process on these botnet creators and distributors."

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2015-0543
Published: 2015-07-05
EMC Secure Remote Services Virtual Edition (ESRS VE) 3.x before 3.06 does not properly verify X.509 certificates from SSL servers, which allows man-in-the-middle attackers to spoof servers and obtain sensitive information via a crafted certificate.

CVE-2015-0544
Published: 2015-07-05
EMC Secure Remote Services Virtual Edition (ESRS VE) 3.x before 3.06 does not properly generate random values for session cookies, which makes it easier for remote attackers to hijack sessions by predicting a value.

CVE-2015-2721
Published: 2015-07-05
Mozilla Network Security Services (NSS) before 3.19, as used in Mozilla Firefox before 39.0, Firefox ESR 31.x before 31.8 and 38.x before 38.1, Thunderbird before 38.1, and other products, does not properly determine state transitions for the TLS state machine, which allows man-in-the-middle attacke...

CVE-2015-2722
Published: 2015-07-05
Use-after-free vulnerability in the CanonicalizeXPCOMParticipant function in Mozilla Firefox before 39.0 and Firefox ESR 31.x before 31.8 and 38.x before 38.1 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code via vectors involving attachment of an XMLHttpRequest object to a shared worker.

CVE-2015-2724
Published: 2015-07-05
Multiple unspecified vulnerabilities in the browser engine in Mozilla Firefox before 39.0, Firefox ESR 31.x before 31.8 and 38.x before 38.1, and Thunderbird before 38.1 allow remote attackers to cause a denial of service (memory corruption and application crash) or possibly execute arbitrary code v...

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Marc Spitler, co-author of the Verizon DBIR will share some of the lesser-known but most intriguing tidbits from the massive report