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Active 'Darkness' DDoS Botnet's Tool Now Available For Free

Botnet has DDoS'ed an average of 1.5 victim sites per day, and about three per day in the fourth quarter of last year

A free version of a fast-growing and relatively efficient DDoS botnet tool has been unleashed in the underground. The so-called Darkness botnet is best known for doing more damage with less -- its creators boasting that it can take down an average-sized site with just 30 bots.

Researchers are keeping a close eye on the botnet, which has been very active over the past few months. In just the past three weeks, for example, Darkness has attacked an average of 1.5 victim sites per day, and about three per day in the fourth quarter of last year, according to data gathered by Jeff Edwards, research analyst with Arbor Networks' Asert team. "This is definitely one of the more active ones," Edwards says of the DDoS botnet, which appears to originate out of Russia. "It tends to go after targets primarily in Europe, and to a lesser extent, the U.S."

Andre' DiMino, director of Shadowserver, revealed yesterday that an older version of the bot code, version 6m, had become available for free in various underground forums as of late December, and that Shadowserver was already seeing new Darkness botnet command and control servers waging DDoS attacks. "Darkness requires fewer infected systems, which makes it more efficient," DiMino says.

Both DiMino and Edwards consider Darkness a big competitor to the already-established Black Energy botnet. But unlike Black Energy, which has been known to deliver one-to punches of both DDoSing and stealing information from its victims, Darkness -- aka "Optima" and "Votwup" -- thus far appears to be all about its specialty, overwhelming websites with bogus HTTP requests.

And that specialization is part of what makes Darkness so efficient as a DDoS botnet, notes Arbor's Edwards. "It's well-written, efficient code," he says. "It pumps out a lot of packets ... And Darkness is not using any new vulnerability or technology. It's more just a good implementation of a known methodology for doing DDoS."

But that doesn't mean Darkness doesn't have some specialty features, too: DiMino says Shadowserver's initial research shows that the bot code circulating also includes a feature aimed at disrupting online voting and polling. But so far, the feature doesn't appear to "work too well," he says.

A higher-end version of Darkness sells for $350 and includes three different command and control servers, providing a must-have for any botnet operator today, some built-in redundancy and resiliency just in case a researcher or law enforcement manages to take down one of its C&C servers.

Just why, or by whom, Darkness Version 6w was released is unclear. "It's not really clear if it was the Darkness owner who put it out, or someone who had purchased it, or if they had an ax to grind," says DiMino, who offered more details on Darkness in a blog post yesterday. The bottom line is that the increasingly popular botnet is now even more readily available.

Even so, DiMino says antivirus detection of the bot is fairly good thus far, with a high percentage of AV engines detecting it. "The rate of attack is dramatic with Darkness," he says. "But by one token while it's very efficient against its victim, it's also easily detected if an enterprise has decent identifications" for it, he says.

So far, targets of Darkness DDoS attacks tend to be high-profile ones, and across various industries, he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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