A new family of malware agents is attacking the websites of firms involved in the industrial food processing industry.
Variants of the Darkshell botnet agent, circulating in China, turn infected Windows machines into attack drones. Infected machines regularly phone in to command and control nodes for instructions, periodically receiving instructions on sites to inundate with junk traffic.
Arbor Networks, which has been tracking the activities of the cybercrime networks for the last three months, reports that Darkshell botnets have launched DDoS attacks against 97 unique victims, mostly in China (65) and the United States (23).
Victims have included online merchants of baby products and jewellery as well as video game related sites. However, a big percentage of targets narrowly focused on the websites of small manufacturers of industrial food processing equipment and machinery.
"We have logged attacks against at least 16 such victims emanating from the Darkshell botnets, comprising approximately 40 per cent of the victims that we sampled," Arbor security analyst Jeff Edwards reports.
"One can only speculate on the reasons for this aggressive focus on such a relatively tiny niche within the online landscape. Several such attacks have been sustained for over 60 hours at a time, and most of these equipment vendors have suffered multiple repeat attacks during this interval of time."
Even more curiously, the attacks seem to focus on three or four URLs on a targeted website that refer to specific products. "We have also observed instances in which multiple Darkshell botnets engaged in coordinated attacks against a single victim (again, vendors of industrial food processing equipment)," said Arbor.
Darkshell is not technically sophisticated, but it stands out from the rogue's gallery of botnet agents because of its particular (unusual) focus in attacking websites of industrial food processing firms, a sign of the increased diversification and specialisation of the underground economy.
Arbor doesn't speculate in its detailed write-up of the malware, but the most obvious explanation is that the dodgy sorts behind Darkshell are running a DDoS for hire operation for business rivals of the targeted firms. ®