Polish knights slay Virut, the brazen virus army that has its own EULA

Multi-headed zombie mob will be back for more


Security researchers have decapitated a spam-spewing network of hacked computers by pulling the plug on the central command-and-control servers. The compromised PCs were infected by the Virut virus and were being remotely controlled from these servers by miscreants.

The takedown operation was coordinated by CERT Polska, the computer emergency response team in Poland. Virut - which spreads via file-sharing networks, compromised web servers and infected USB drives - was responsible for 6.8 per cent of malware infections in 2012, according to stats from Russian security biz Kaspersky Lab.

The software nasty infects .exe and .html files to display adverts and open a backdoor to the botnet's masters. It has been linked to data theft and distributed-denial-of-service attacks, as well as spam distribution, according to CERT Polska. Other researchers, including the bods at Symantec, have linked the botnet to ad-click fraud.

“Since 2006, Virut has been one of the most disturbing threats active on the Internet,” CERT Polska wrote. “The scale of the phenomenon was massive: in 2012 for Poland alone, over 890,000 unique IP addresses were reported to be infected by Virut.”

CERT Polska has sinkholded 23 domain names, including zief.pl and ircgalaxy.pl, used by servers calling the shots not only for Virut-infected machines but also systems hit by the Palevo strain of malware and variants of the infamous bank-account-raiding ZeuS Trojans. Sinkholing involves seizing control of the domain names for a botnet's command-and-control systems to redirect connections from the hacked PCs to investigators' machines.

This allows the security experts to capture communications from compromised computers phoning home to the command-and-control servers to receive their next instructions. This reveals the operations and internal structure of the network of zombie PCs, which steers the strategy for subsequent cleanup operations. Seizing the reins of the botnet to monitor network chatter disrupts the criminal activity, at least temporarily, but in itself does nothing to remove infections from compromised drones - which are, don't forget, innocent users' Windows PCs.

As a back-up mechanism each compromised Virut host can try using one of 10,000 alternative domain names each day to connect to a command server if contact with the main control systems is lost; this feature allows the zombie masters to rollout fresh updates and new connection details and regain control of the botnet. Days before the takedown, Symantec warned that Virut was redistributing Waledac, a spam-sending bot whose original control system was pulled offline in a high-profile takedown operation orchestrated by Microsoft in 2010.

The Virut botnet created a platform for the distribution of other strains of malware onto compromised hosts and this formed the main mechanism for its controllers to make money, often through elaborate affiliate programs.

One money-making affiliate network aped legit software businesses by actually publishing an end-user licence (EULA) for Virut, according to investigative journalist Brian Krebs. The terms-of-use document, for those wishing to redistribute the virus, refers to "bundling" rather than infection, and boasts that "QuickBundle technology" spread by the botnet "enriches" files with ad-supported content.

The licence forbids users from sharing the download with computer security organisations or anti-malware firms. ®

Broader topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Your snoozing iOS 15 iPhone may actually be sleeping with one antenna open
    No, you're not really gonna be hacked. But you may be surprised

    Some research into the potentially exploitable low-power state of iPhones has sparked headlines this week.

    While pretty much no one is going to utilize the study's findings to attack Apple users in any meaningful way, and only the most high-profile targets may find themselves troubled by all this, it at least provides some insight into what exactly your iOS handheld is up to when it's seemingly off or asleep. Or none of this is news to you. We'll see.

    According to the research, an Apple iPhone that goes asleep into low-power mode or is turned off isn't necessarily protected against surveillance. That's because some parts of it are still operating at low power.

    Continue reading
  • China will produce one in five of the chips it uses in 2026, says analyst
    Well short of planned 70 percent domestic capacity

    China’s integrated circuit (IC) production has failed to keep pace with its appetite for silicon, with market research firm IC Insights predcicting the nation will produce only one in five ICs it uses in 2026.

    That figure is a increase from 2021's one in six, and reflects eight percent compound annual growth rate from 2021 to 2026. But it means China will miss its own targets for locally-made-and-consumed silicon.

    “Although China has been the largest consuming country for ICs since 2005, it does not necessarily mean that large increases in IC production within China would immediately follow, or ever follow” said the firm in a bulletin on Wednesday.

    Continue reading
  • Tencent happily parting ways with loss-making cloud customers
    Cutting costs across sprawling business as COVID makes life hard in China

    Chinese tech giant Tencent has recorded its first ever quarter-to-quarter revenue fall, warned that COVID-19 lockdowns will hurt messing with its business, and cautioned against assumptions that Beijing is ready to enthusiastically support tech companies.

    On its Q1 2022 earnings call yesterday, the company offered more explanation of its shifting cloud strategy.

    Chief strategy officer James Mitchell told investors the company is pleased to have shown loss-making cloud customers the door, and “proactively scaled back … deeply discounted infrastructure-only contracts for basic services such as cloud compute and content delivery network.” Projects that had high costs and/or relied on sub-contractors have also been scaled back.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022