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Perimeter

2/22/2010
02:14 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Enhancing Botnet Detection With Manpower

The average computer user (a.k.a. most of my family) doesn't have a fighting chance. I hate to say it, but the malware we're seeing on a daily basis makes this scary fact evermore true. There is absolutely no way that most home users are going to be able to protect themselves against modern malware like Zeus. Malware authors have become extremely good and proficient at what they do because it's making them money.

The average computer user (a.k.a. most of my family) doesn't have a fighting chance. I hate to say it, but the malware we're seeing on a daily basis makes this scary fact evermore true. There is absolutely no way that most home users are going to be able to protect themselves against modern malware like Zeus. Malware authors have become extremely good and proficient at what they do because it's making them money.I'm not saying there's no hope for anyone out there, just that the average user doesn't stand a chance. Our previous preachings on staying patched, keeping antivirus updated, and not running as administrator are still sound. I've seen plenty of fully patched, AV-protected machines running the latest AV get infected through an unpatched vulnerability or social engineering where the user was duped into installing the malware because it appeared to be AV, audio codecs, or a kitty screensaver.

Lately, there have been a few articles and blogs with tips on how to address the botnet threat, and I haven't seen one say you need to dedicate at least the equivalent of one full time person to the issue. The recommendations are good and include the typical things like user awareness, patching your software, and keeping your antivirus updated.

But where is the increase manpower? Nowhere to be seen. Why keep promoting Band-Aids when these companies could really use an extra person or three to aid in detection, remediation, and prevention by using the free intelligence that's out there? If you compare the cost of many security solutions to the salary of an additional staff member, then you'll probably find the find that the cost is about the same; however, I think you'll likely get more bang for the buck.

Wondering what do you do with the new person? Task them with keeping up-to-date on the latest malware--distribution methods, attack vectors, and purpose. Next, if you're not using Snort, consider implementing a Snort sensor to monitor your company's Internet connection. Then scrap all the rules that come with Snort and subscribe to the Emerging Threats mailing list and use their signatures. Have them pay special attention to alerts from the malware, virus, and current-events categories.

Once your new person has had a few weeks under their belt, they should start noticing trends in malware like Zeus, Koobface, Torpig, and similar bots. Suddenly, seemingly innocuous HTTP requests stand out because of discrepancies in the UserAgent, URL, or payload. They will start developing their own Snort signatures and finding new behaviors from the latest variants before they're disclosed publicly.

Maybe I'm a bit of a masochist in that I love doing those things above. I like detecting new attacks, finding an attacker's dump site, and submitting new samples to VirusTotal with zero detections. With the exception of a few security solutions I've seen, you're not getting that type of detection with off-the-shelf products.

Try it yourself. Give Snort and the Emerging Threats rules a shot. Take a look at BotHunter and monitor for your systems communicating with hosts in the Zeus Tracker. I'd be shocked if you don't turn up at least one Web-based attack within 24 hours and an infected host within a few days that your current security solution has missed

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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