Don't Be a Botnet

Aaron Weiss, Tech Journalist / Humorist | 5/25/2012 | 28 comments

Aaron Weiss
In the past few weeks, enterprise networks have been getting hit with a relatively new security attack known as the Jericho Botnet. This malware network is designed to lift access to banking and other financial sites from victims' networks. It appears to have its origins in both Romania and Israel.

Jericho is a sophisticated botnet with noteworthy skills, in particular the ability to avoid anti-malware detection temporarily and to communicate over the network through other legitimate applications. Mechanics aside, though, Jericho's quick advance is a reminder that botnets are particularly attracted to enterprise victims the way autumn yellow jackets are drawn to open bottles of sugary soda.

A hacker creates a botnet when he or she can infect multiple victims with a payload designed to be controlled from a remote location. In a typical scenario, Hacker Hal builds a malicious payload designed to infect a Windows machine. This payload can be configured with a wide variety of malicious tools, such as a keylogger, file search, remote desktop, or even webcam capture. If Hacker Hal is good at his work, he encrypts the payload with a signature not yet known to anti-malware scanners. He then needs to tempt or trick victims into executing the malware. Hal has many options, including malicious e-mail attachments, infected Web pages (Jericho was delivered through infected PHP scripts), or drive-bys through Java or Flash. Not every effort will stick, but if Hal devotes enough resources to spreading his malware, he can eventually accumulate a botnet of infected victims.

Enterprise organizations make great victims! By various estimates, 5 to 9 percent of enterprises harbor a botnet infection (compared with 20 percent of home users). Botnet creators, who are both individuals and criminal organizations, usually have a few goals. Some, like Jericho, dig for access to confidential Websites. Stored passwords or logins captured through a keylogger are possible targets. Enterprise victims could be expected to house particularly valuable data, including access to private company servers.

Botnets are often used for mass-scale shenanigans, such as spam distribution, clickfraud schemes, and distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks. These efforts become more effective as the number of leveraged machines increases. These networks can range in size from 1,000 to 50,000-plus victims. Increasingly, botnet creators contract out their services on behalf of clients who want the dirty work done. Enterprise networks are such juicy targets for botnet creators for a few reasons.

  • Predictable infrastructure: In a medium or large enterprise, there is a good chance that hundreds of machines, if not thousands, are running the same software. Infecting one significantly improves the chance of infecting many or all.
  • Unattended operation: Enterprise networks, particularly workstations, are likely to be unused outside of business hours yet often remain powered on. A botnet that schedules its activities smartly is more likely to avoid casual detection from users noticing curious symptoms like unexplained slowdowns with either their machines or the network.
  • Trusted origins: Enterprise networks and their associated IP address blocks are more likely to have "good cred" in the eyes of anti-spam filters and similar security systems at other networks. This means attacks launched from an enterprise-based botnet as less likely to be stopped, or at least to be stopped as quickly, as those originating from home users on more easily compromised residential connections or machines in suspect foreign countries.

Businesses can't simply rely on anti-malware software to prevent botnet infections. Of course, these need to be deployed, but the more advanced Hacker Hals out there can evade detection for a critical period before the anti-malware vendors catch up. User education is not enough, either, because even conscientious employees can be struck by drive-by Java and other Web-based attacks. A better botnet defense is mounted at the outer edge of your enterprise network.

This is a whole book unto itself, but the key to catching botnet infections is network activity analysis -- monitoring traffic flowing through unconventional ports, comparing destination IPs to known blacklists of botnet command-and-control hosts, and checking out unusual amounts of traffic through conventional ports (which can suggest malware tunneling through services like DNS).

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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nasimson   Don't Be a Botnet   6/24/2012 9:08:18 AM
Re: Does ordinary anti-virus not catch this?
Oh I see. Well, one part of the question did ask how to detect a botnet but what my real concern here is that how to ensure that my antivirus or antispam software catches it? If my antivirus cannot trace such a virus, then what's it there for. 
Joe Stanganelli   Don't Be a Botnet   6/1/2012 11:47:25 AM
Re: 20%
User education is very important, even if you are just a casual home user.  If you're running Google searches for naked celebrities and bootleg software, you better at least be able to have a discerning enough eye to know that the link to the Chinese website with the really long, oddly specific URL is probably not a good idea to click on.
eethtworkz   Don't Be a Botnet   5/31/2012 10:51:50 AM
Re: 20%

I would'nt blame the Home User.

The thing is Security moves so fast today its impossible for ordinary professionals (who are not in IT) to keep up.

They just want a simple solution which allows them to log on ,do their work and Log off.

Don't bother them with all this Technical Jargon.

It should just work.

That's it.



eethtworkz   Don't Be a Botnet   5/31/2012 10:48:13 AM
Re: Bots and small business and home users

You have to be able to do simple things .

I personally like the idea of Switching off your Machines as well as the Internet Switch when you exit the Company.

This way you don't give a Botnet Free Resources for them to exploit.

That's one key.

The other as Vanessa Rightly mentions in Network Analysis and Log Management.

Lot of work,but very little time.That's the reality of IT Management in SMBs & Its a Thankless job too.

Damned if you do,Damned if you Don't.


eethtworkz   Don't Be a Botnet   5/31/2012 10:41:38 AM
Re: Bots and small business and home users

I could'nt agree more.

But whats the solution?

Outsource entire IT Administration(incl. Security) to Experts?


Problem is most SMBs are run by Founders themselves and they don't like to see the regular overhead (that Saas brings inJust like a Utility Bill).

If the machine Konks they would check if it can fixed once or they just go ahead and Buy a New Machine.


eethtworkz   Don't Be a Botnet   5/31/2012 10:36:47 AM
Why just Windows ,today we get Android Botnets too.

I dont think its fair to just pin all the blame on Windows and say that its all Windows Botnets.

I have seen serious instances of Android Malware and Android Botnets too(not to mention iOS Targetted ones too).

In fact this is where most Attention should be focussed today as Smartphone Penetration continues to rise(at Double Digit rates annually) while Windows Machines sales taper off ;this is where more attention should be foccused (to build current Security Infrastructure) today.

One example.

Too many Misguided people tend to think that Botnets are exclusively focussed on Windows Machines (and so iOS and Android don't need any protection);this is an extremely frightening attitude today.


The_Phil   Don't Be a Botnet   5/31/2012 9:06:11 AM
Re: Does ordinary anti-virus not catch this?
Yes I have a client now that went that avenue for that reason... along with the minimal administration overhead. Now they have an issue with compliance. Go figure...
tinym   Don't Be a Botnet   5/30/2012 11:13:01 PM
Re: Does ordinary anti-virus not catch this?
So true! Smaller networks suffer sometimes at the hand of many-hat-wearers. I seen it. On a related note, software and service upgrades happen at very inconvenient times with these folks. They do their best but the many hats hinder production in some areas.
fbpmt   Don't Be a Botnet   5/30/2012 9:03:23 PM
Re: Does ordinary anti-virus not catch this?
Nasimson - you know you are a botnet when you begin to get gobs of non delivery email from your provider to email addresses which are not in your address book. For me, these were to non-US email addresses and I am in the US and do not have any addresses not in the US.

And yes, by then it is too late.
User Ranking: Blogger
fbpmt   Don't Be a Botnet   5/30/2012 9:01:31 PM
Re: Does ordinary anti-virus not catch this?
Geeky - how did you get it / become a botnet in the first place?
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