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Vulnerabilities / Threats

11/19/2008
02:51 PM
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Broadband Explosion in China And India To Fuel Bots, Spam

Botnets to cast wider geographic net, more widely adopt stealthy fast-flux technology, researcher says

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- CSI 2008 -- Botnet operators have begun to quietly expand their recruiting efforts to China and India, as broadband adoption begins to take off in these countries.

Security researchers at MessageLabs, now part of Symantec, have seen measurable bot activity cropping up for the first time across mainland China and India. "Twelve months ago, there was practically nothing [happening there with bots]. But [now] there's something going on there," says Mark Sunner, chief security analyst for MessageLabs, who here at the CSI show on Tuesday discussed new trends in botnet and malware activity.

Broadband to the home is what fuels botnets, which then generate spam, he says. "This activity in Asia is of particular interest because broadband is in the early stage of adoption. And there is population growth in those areas, too," he says. Bot infection activity in bot-heavy North America and Europe hasn't changed much during the past few months.

China and India will reach a nearly 30 percent rate of broadband adoption to the home during the next one to two years, providing botnet operators access to more potential bot victims, Sunner says. "That will have implications that the whole world will feel," he says, like when the broadband wave hit the U.S. and Europe around 2003. "The Sobig virus [here] in January of 2003 was no coincidence. It was about exploiting broadband," he says.

Jose Nazario, manager of security research for Arbor Networks, says an uptick in bot activity in the region was expected. "China is already a haven for lots of atrocious activities, mostly focused on Chinese users, but we expect India to get there in the next few years," Nazario says. "Right now, the networks there are hidden behind massive NAT gateways, but once that lifts up, we'll see lots of problems."

MessageLabs' Sunner, meanwhile, worries that the takedown -- albeit likely temporary -- of McColo, the Web hosting company used by some of the world's biggest botnets and spammers, will result in more botnets adopting stealthy fast-flux technology to stay up and running. Fast-flux is a round-robin method in which infected bots serve as proxies or hosts for malicious Web sites, and are constantly rotated, changing their DNS records to prevent their discovery.

The world's biggest spamming botnets -- Rustock, Srizbi, Pushdo, and Mega-D -- were McColo customers and did not use fast-flux. "But it would be nave to think it couldn't happen," Sunner says. "The real danger is paying too much attention to [McColo's demise]," he says.

Sunner says the botnets and spammers hit by the McColo shutdown may be looking to distribute their command and control (C&C) infrastructure with fast-flux and other methods. One possibility is for them to hide their C&C behind blog sites, he says. "At the moment, there's no evidence of this, but it would be a way for them to be [more] untraceable," Sunner adds.

MessageLabs researchers have seen spam runs spike as spammers push to ensure their traffic gets through. It takes only about 11 minutes from start to finish for a spam campaign today, Sunner says.

"Spam receipt patterns used to be almost flat; now we're seeing these spikes. This is new," he says. "They figure they can send short blasts before honeypot software can receive them and generate signatures for them. We've seen the window for spam campaigns getting smaller."

Sunner also expects spammers to plant more of their content within Google Docs to evade detection, and to exploit cloud-based email and Web 2.0 services. "We've even seen them embed Google Analytics so they can track the success of their campaigns," he says. "This is in the embryonic stage now, but the abuse of hosted cloud-type environments will [increase] with the smart bad guys and become more significant in 2009," he says.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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 ... View Full Bio

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