The story behind the Microsoft Nitol Botnet takedown

Earlier today Microsoft announced the takedown of the Nitol botnet and takeover of the 3322.org domain. However, if you are using the Damballa flow-based Detection Control, this was a non-event. Full disclosure – Cymbel partners with Damballa.

Gunter Ollman, Damballa’s CTO, today commented on Nitol and 3322.org, and the ramifications of the Microsoft takedown, which I will summarize.

First, Damballa has been tracking Nitol and the other 70 or so botnets leveraging 3322.org for quite some time. Therefore, as a Damballa user, any device on your network infected with Nitol, or the other 70 botnets leveraging 3322.org, would be identified by Damballa. Furthermore, if you were using Damballa’s blocking capabilities, those devices would be prevented from communicating with their malware’s Command & Control (C&C) servers.

Second, most of these 70+ botnets make use of “multiple C&C domain names distributed over multiple DNS providers. Botnet operators are only too aware of domain takedown orders from law enforcement, so they add a few layers of resilience to their C&C infrastructure to protect against that kind of disruption.” Therefore this takedown did not kill these botnets.

In closing, while botnet and DNS provider takedowns are interesting, they simply do not reduce an organization’s risk of data breaches. Damballa does!!

 

 

Botnet communicates via P2P instead of C&C

Symantec reported on a version of Zeus/Spyeye that communicates via P2P among its bot peers rather than “traditional” C&C directly to its control servers. (I put traditional in quotes because I don’t want to give the impression that detecting C&C traffic is easy.)

…it seems that the C&C server has disappeared entirely for this functionality. Where they were previously sending and receiving control messages to and from the C&C, these control messages are now handled by the P2P network.

This means that every peer in the botnet can act as a C&C server, while none of them really are one. Bots are now capable of downloading commands, configuration files, and executables from other bots—every compromised computer is capable of providing data to the other bots. We don’t yet know how the stolen data is communicated back to the attackers, but it’s possible that such data is routed through the peers until it reaches a drop zone controlled by the attackers.

Now if you are successfully blocking all P2P traffic on your network, you don’t have to worry about this new development. However, when P2P is blocked, this version of Zeus/Spyeye reverts to C&C methods. So you still need a technical network security control that can reliably detect compromised end points by monitoring egress traffic to proxies and firewalls and DNS traffic because you surely cannot rely on your host-based security controls. (If you doubt my claim, please contact me and I will prove it to you.)

But what if you have a business requirement for access to one or more P2P networks? Do you have a way to implement a positive control policy that only allows the specific P2P networks you need and blocks all the others? A Next Generation Firewall ought to enable you to meet this business requirement. I say “ought to” because not all of them do. I have written about NGFWs here, here, here, and here.

You Can Never Really Get Rid of Botnets

You Can Never Really Get Rid of Botnets.

Gunter Ollmann, the Vice President of Research at Damballa, provides insight into botnets in general and specifically into the Kelihos botnet takedown.

What is lost in these disclosures is an appreciation of number of people and breadth of talent that is needed to build and operate a profitable criminal botnet business.  Piatti and the dotFREE Group were embroiled in the complaint because they inadvertently provisioned the DNS with which the botnet was dependent upon. Other external observers and analysts of the Kelihos botnet believe it to be a relative of the much bigger and more damaging Waledac botnet, going as far as naming a Peter Severa as the mastermind between both botnets.

Botnets are a business. Like any successful business they have their own equivalents of financiers, architects, construction workers and even routes to market.

Past attempts to takedown botnets have focused on shutting down the servers that command the infected zombie computers. Given the agile nature of modern botnet design, the vast majority of attempts have failed. Microsoft’s pursuit of the human operators behind botnets such as Kelihos and Waledac are widely seen as the most viable technique for permanently shutting them down. But, even then, there are problems that still need to be addressed.

While taking down botnet servers is a worthy activity for companies like Microsoft, enterprises still must deal with finding and remediating compromised endpoints.

Looking for Infected Systems as Part of a Security Assessment

Looking for Infected Systems as Part of a Security AssessmentLooking for Infected Systems as Part of a Security Assessment. Lenny Seltzer describes techniques for identifying signs of malware or compromise in an enterprise setting.

Lenny mentions Damballa’s consultant-friendly licensing option, Damballa Failsafe. We partner with Seculert, who provides a cloud-based service for detecting botnet infected devices in the enterprise.


 

RSA FraudAction News Flash: Trojan Add-On Forces Zombie PCs into Slavery to Mine Bitcoins « Speaking of Security – The RSA Blog and Podcast

RSA FraudAction News Flash: Trojan Add-On Forces Zombie PCs into Slavery to Mine Bitcoins « Speaking of Security – The RSA Blog and Podcast.

RSA is reporting that SpyEye and Zeus trojans have been enhanced to use botnet zombie computers to mine Bitcoins.

This article provide a nice introduction to Bitcoin if you are not familiar with this form of digital currency and then discusses the Bitcoin “stealing” enhancements to the two botnet trojans.

YouTube – Seculert Cyber Threat Management

YouTube – Seculert Cyber Threat Management.

Our partner Seculert has just published this video on YouTube, highlighting it’s ability to complement existing security controls to provide detailed information on systems compromised by botnets.

Seculert Research Lab: The New Trend in “Malware Evolution”

Seculert Research Lab: The New Trend in “Malware Evolution”.

This post by Seculert Research Labs provides an overview of the evolution of Carberp. Carberp is a relatively new botnet which is rapidly evolving into the one of the most sophisticated pieces of malware ever seen.

Some say it will be the successor to Zeus. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but its developers are surely competing for the cybercriminals’ software budget.

Technical botnet takedowns useless. Technical controls needed.

TrendMicro’s 2010 in Review: No Recession for Cybercrime notes the ineffectiveness of several of the publicized botnet takedowns.

The futility of takedowns was seen when Pushdo/Cutwail was taken down earlier this year. Within days, it was back in business. Similarly, security researchers were able to take down the Waledac botnet in March but, as we noted at the time, the spam levels remained unchanged.

The lesson is that shutting down a botnet by purely technical means doesn’t do anything in the long term; arresting the people responsible is key to fixing the cybercrime threat.

What does this mean to the enterprise? You are on your own. Given the ease with which new botnets can be created and their geographic distribution, the arrests will be interesting but will not significantly reduce the botnet threat.

Cymbel provides three complementary solutions which help you mitigate the risks of botnets:

  • Palo Alto NetworksNext Generation Firewall with integrated Intrusion Prevention, URL Filtering, and botnet command and control communications detection.
  • FireEye – Heuristics-based malware detection with sandboxed suspicious code execution to minimize false positives.
  • Seculert – SaaS-based, External Threat Intelligence which alerts you on your compromised systems by monitoring the botnets themselves.

Boffins devise early-warning bot spotter • The Register

Boffins devise early-warning bot spotter • The Register.

Researchers at Texas A&M have written a paper proposing a method for Detecting Algorithmically Generated Malicious Domain Names. It focuses on detecting domain fluxing, a technique used by botnets such as Conficker.

The method uses techniques from signal detection theory and statistical learning to detect domain names generated from a variety of algorithms, including those based on pseudo-random strings, dictionary-based words, and words that are pronounceable but not in any dictionary. It has a 100-percent detection rate with no false positives when 500 domains are generated per top-level domain. When 50 domains are mapped to the same TLD, the 100-percent detection rate remains, but false positives jump to 15 percent.

New commercial DDoS botnet discovered

Via SC Magazine article, a new commercial DDoS botnet  has been discovered. IMDDOS is growing at a rate of 10,000 devices per day. Note that this is a commercial effort:

Literally anyone who can read or work with a Mandarin Chinese website can go onto their self-service portal, create an account and pick their victim of choice for a DDoS attack.

The botnet’s C&C domains, located in China, are used to push out instructions to infected bots to launch DDoS attacks against a list of targeted domains. Researchers are unsure of the price of IMDDOS attack services and do not know the actual domain names targeted by IMDDOS customers.

Full disclosure: While this article was “stimulated” by Damballa’s VP of Marketing, I still thought it was newsworthy. We partner with FireEye, a Damballa competitor.