Malware – future trends

Not open for further replies.


Golden Master
Malware – future trends

1. Intro
2. Scope
3. AuthorÂ’s comments
4. The current state of the malware threat
- Where the metrics are!
- Use and abuse of malware
- DDoS extortion
- DDoS on demand/hire
- Botnets and zombie hosts
- Pay-Per-Click-Hijacking
- Cryptoviral extortion, Ransomware
- Platform for dissemination of other junk
- Mass identity theft and financial abuse
- Around the industry
5. Factors contributing to the rise and success of malware
- Documentation and howtoÂ’s transformed into source code
- Vulnerabilities, even patches, easily turned into exploits
- Clear signs of consolidation on the malware scene
- The media as a fueling factor for growth
- Over 960M unique Internet users and their connectivity, or purchasing power
- The demand for illegal services
6. Future trends
- Mobile malware will be successfully monetized
- Localization as a concept will attract the codersÂ’ attention
- Open Source Malware
- Anonymous and illegal hosting of (copyrighted) data
- The development of Ecosystem
- Rise in encryption and packers
- 0day malware on demand
- Cryptoviral extortion / Ransomware will emerge
- When the security solutions ends up the security problem itself
- Intellectual property worms
- Web vulnerabilities, and web worms – diversity and explicit velocity
- Hijacking botnets and infected PCs
- Interoperability will increase the diversity and reach of the malware scene
7. Conclusion
01. Intro
Malware has truly evolved during the last couple of years. Its potential for financial and network
based abuse was quickly realized, and thus, tactics changed, consolidation between different
parties occurred, and the malware scene became overly monetized, with its services available on
What are the driving forces behind the rise of malware? WhoÂ’s behind it, and what tactics do
they use? How are vendors responding, and what should organizations, researchers, and end
users keep in mind for the upcoming future? These and many other questions will be discussed in
this article, combining security experience, business logic, a little bit of psychology, market
trends, and personal chats with knowledgeable folks from the industry.
02. Scope
This publication is in no way intended to be a complete future prediction or a reference, as future
can never by fully predicted, thatÂ’s the beauty of it. Instead, its intention is to discuss the
possible future trends backed up by a little speculation, and also use some of the current ones as
a foundation for future developments. Malware authors, and antivirus vendors would never stop
playing a cat and mouse game, thatÂ’s the nature of the market, but as in any other, there are
core factors affecting all the participants, and variables whose movements shape the future
direction of events. In this publication, I did my best to cover the most significant ones,
expressing entirely my point of view as an independent security consultant.
03. AuthorÂ’s comments
Back in 2003 when I first wrote The Complete Windows Trojans Paper1, things were entirely
different from what they are today. Trojans used to have fixed ports2, servers were open to
anyone scanning and using the right client for the right trojan. Then, malware started getting
smarter, and port 80 or anything else allowed by default started acting as a communication
platform. Infected PCs started getting controlled over Web browsers, and SensePostÂ’s Setiri3
concept deserves to be mentioned among the many other important ones back in those days.
Slightly highlighting the future potential of what used to be Remote Access Trojans (RATs) back
in 2003, today this threat is represented by IP (intellectual property) worms, cryptoviral extortion
schemes, or industrial espionage 0day cases like the Israeli’s operation “Horse Race”4.
Furthermore, many others trends and factors should also be considered. I greatly hope that this
trend analysis will result in more constructive discussions, or perhaps, even expectations from
any of your security vendors!
For others thoughts on security, you can also go through my blog posts at :
What will you learn after reading this paper?
- you will be able to easily graps the big picture and know where you, or your organization
- you will maker better purchasing decisions, and become a more informed opinion leader
- how the current threats affecting the scene will influence the trends to come?
- why malware will continue to be an inseparable part of the Internet?
- how malware turned into a cost-effective industrial espionage tool?
- and many more insights or topics to speculate on!
04. The current state of the malware threat
LetÂ’s start from the basics. A worm5 is a malicious code (standalone or file-infecting), that
propagates over a network, with or without human assistance. Malware6 though, should be
considered as “the gang” of malicious software, in respect to their unique features. Which is what
I am going to talk about. That said, you should also consider todayÂ’s malware as:
- modular - new features are easily added to further improve its impact, want it to have P2P
propagation capability, add it, want it to disseminate over IM, done. The disturbing part is that
what used to be tutorials and documents on the topic, is todayÂ’s freely available source code, or
specific modules7 of it
- even more powerful and destructive - full control over infected host and network
connection, blocks known firewalls, antivirus signatures updates and software, eliminates rival
malware, encrypts host data and asks for ransom, has rootkit capabilities, generates revenue for
its authors, and thatÂ’s just the tip of the iceberg!
- monetized - acts as a source of revenue and not fun, or just intellectual exploration anymore.
Huge profits are to be made out of malware, and individuals easily turn to the dark side. A great
post I came across on the Incident HandlerÂ’s Diary8, mentioned that the world champions in web
site defacements, Brazilian gangs, sell web servers access to phishers, but quite often, many get
- on demand - in need of a specially crafted 0day malware, rent zombies for DDoS attacks or
spamming? Look no further, services likes these are available, and ShadowCrew9 were the first to
realize an underground electronic market concept. ThereÂ’s a clear demand, and when thereÂ’s
demand, thereÂ’s supply as well
- homogenous as always - MicrosoftÂ’s OS(and IE of course) dominate the market, exploit
them, and exploit pretty much everyone. Linux boxes or MACÂ’s, are currently getting no attention
at all, and they will later on, MS’s “New Era” ad campaign “Your Potential(Host, Network), Our
Passion(Malware)”, can indeed be taken as a leading incentive for future generations of malware
authors vision. My point is that, the so called monoculture is one of the leading factors for mass
innovation during the 21st century, but even though, monopolistic sentiments in the security
industry can cause damage with targeted attacks. For instance, WelchiaÂ’s attacks on security
solutions should be mentioned, and DecemberÂ’s 2005 discovered vulnerabilities10 in SymantecÂ’s
and McAfeeÂ’s products as well. Vendors tend to have vulnerabilities as well. However, I feel any
vendor should really, really, try to reach the proactive level of high-severity vulnerability
research, than merely responding (whether later or not is yet topic though) on security
vulnerabilities. In many cases, independent security researchers provide patches or policies on
how to block certain security threats posed by the lack of vendor released patch in a timely
manner. Irony, but it keeps the balance around the Net in a certain way.
- easily resetting its lifecycle by reintroduction of new exploits, or switching infection
propagators – once enough “seed victims” are gathered, these easily act as a stepping stone
for further infections. Furthermore, once a patch for a known vulnerability starts getting applied
across networks, the malware authors simply “reset” their code’s lifecycle, by reintroducing it
under new infection propagators, and exploits database. So for the time being, I feel malware
authors have the privilege in this tactical warfare
- competitive - rather ironical, but malware can, and is disinfecting against other malware. And
given the competition for a larger share of the InternetÂ’s infected population as I refer to
zombies, malware authors are waging cyberwars among themselves. The infamous virii wars11
indicate that malware authors are facing challenges too, and while collaborating, they are also
competing. So true for any market, isnÂ’t it?
- sneaky - namely, can propagate through content spoofing12 or web vulnerabilities, autoexecuting
through client-side attacks(browser, any other software), and requires less end userÂ’s
interaction resulting in a faster worm, and higher probability of infection
- the main platform for disseminating spam, phishing or any kind of e-junk - “Give me
an email and I can move the Earth!” approaches easily turn into reality, and there’s been a clear
indication of how spammers, phishers and malware authors work together. ThatÂ’s just the
beginning of these affiliations.
Further expanding the topic, the malware scene is overly mature, while on the other hand its
“releases” usually tend to have extremely short lifecycles, and quickly become part of a family of
variations. The ones with the longest lifecycles tend to dominate a higher proportion of the
InternetÂ’s infected population, and these very same pieces of malware are actually the ones
written for gains, be it intellectual or financial ones. They also tend to reach levels of
sophistication outpacing the rest, make an impact (always the news!) as well as test the vendorsÂ’
understanding and fast response to todayÂ’s, even tomorrowÂ’s threats. Mind you, each and every
malware is released with a specific purpose, namely itÂ’s life-cycle is anticipated by the authors
themselves, but hijacking botnets, or vulnerable infected hosts could extend perhaps, not only its
life-cycle, but its ownership as well, and thatÂ’s already happening. WhatÂ’s also to note is how fast
malware changes tactics whenever an opportunity appears, so basically, even over a short period
of time, all propagation vectors get used.
It is impressive how huge the Internet has grown, its diversity in terms of countries participating,
their regulations, understanding, and actually responding to Internet related threats. The overall
Internet monetization acted as the most clearly highlighted factor for the early malware-for-profit
experiments we have witnessed during the last two years. Be it, email address harvesting, “direct
marketing”, no wait, spam sending, phishing attacks, on demand services in respect to DDoS,
segmented attacks targeting particular country’s businesses, or single company – it is happening
right now, without the FUD! As a matter of fact, in this publication fear stands for “worst case
scenario”, uncertainty for “risk”, and doubt with “uncontrollable external factors”. It’s also as
“third-party research”, as possible :)) There’s been a lot of buzz on using RSS as an infection
propagator, and that MicrosoftÂ’s integration of RSS into future IE versions, would further fuel the
developments in this field. The speculation originally came from a white paper released by
TrendMicro13. On the other hand, content spoofing or pharming are the first scenarios that come
to my mind. If an attacker is able to inject anything into a popular RSS feed, due to a web
application vulnerability on the service, then we really have a problem, and the live feed
circulation meter should be considered as the infected hosts one in this case! What about an IE
vulnerability that would further improve the “effectiveness” of the build-in RSS reader? I wouldn’t
consider it to be the “next big thing” though. Can syndication also be considered as the biggest
hit-list ever, one of the foundations for a Warhol14 worm in this case? Every major dotcom darling
has suffered a web application vulnerability, and with the percentage of Internet traffic they
attract, these are constantly attacked on all fronts.
Another initiative that should also be mentioned, is the Common Malware Enumeration15 whose
aim is to minimize the confusion of malware cross reference names during public outbreaks. The
guys from, have also taken the time and effort to compile a list of cross-reference
malware names16, a clear indication of the need for such a project. But how useful is the idea
actually? It has been recently criticized for not linking to anti virus vendor siteÂ’s technical
descriptions of the related malware, an issue that they have already resolved.
During 2005 we have also witnessed a great deal of cases with preprogrammed malware coming
over mp3 players17, or external hard drives18, and I consider it as a clear indication of the
penetration of the Internet within important networks, as well as the interoperability effect these
days. Malware could therefore easily reach everywhere, and any device.
Malware can also have national security implications, but discussions on these, you wouldnÂ’t hear
or read in news, thatÂ’s up to your sources of course. For instance, in June 2005, Japanese
nuclear data was leaked19 on the Internet through a virus on a personal computer. It exposed
interiors, details of regular inspections of repair works, and names of workers. Yet another event
that happened in December, 2005 was that of Japanese Airlines leakage of airport passcodes
through malware infected PC20. Disturbing enough to comment, even if itÂ’s not done on
Going back to 2004Â’s blackout in the U.S, a lot of folks highlighted that the event was right in
between another Blaster cycle around the net. In fact, some researchers tried to summarize the
potential of BlasterÂ’s unconscious contribution to the blackout, overloading networks worldwide.21
TrendMicro also managed to compile a list of victims posed by the Sasser22 event back in 2004.
Cases of damages included the following:
1. public hospitals in Hong Kong
2. one-third of TaiwanÂ’s post office branches
3. British Airways – 20 flights were delayed for 10 minutes
4. Sydney train system
5. Scandinavian banks
6. British Coast Guard – 19 control centers were forced to use traditional pen and paper for
their charting routines.
And given thatÂ’s just a small part of the big picture, malware can be considered as a truly
evolving menace!
Where the metrics are!
No metricsÂ’ quality should be taken for granted, but I have come across a great deal of
similarities between vendorÂ’s research reports and the actual situation. Even though the diversity
of their sensor networks and geographical regions covered can be questioned, yet another trend
should be considered. Be it, out of professional solidarity, or social concerns, todayÂ’s everlowering
costs for building and maintaining honeyfarms infrastructure have resulted in hundreds
of thousands of honeynets run by researchers or consultants. Their, often unique and timely
discoveries are directly forwarded to all the major vendors for testing. This ongoing collaboration
between anti virus vendors, independent researchers, and organizations, has helped spotting
some of the most prolific threats the industry has seen, such as the Code Red worm for instance,
a moment that sparkled further partnerships between anti virus vendors and vulnerability or
intrusion detection ones.
SymantecÂ’s Internet Security Threat Report VIII23 Edition indicates that :
Note : SymantecÂ’s data is based on more than 24,000 sensors monitoring over 180 countries
across the world. It also integrates data from their 120M client, gateway, and server solutions
customers that use the companyÂ’s products, and the 2M decoy accounts spread across the world.
- In the first six months of 2005, on average there were identified 10, 352 bots per day
- During Jan-Jun 2005, the daily volume of phishing attacks was 5.70B messages
- Between Jan-Jun 2005 DdoS attacks grew by more than 680%, to 927 per day on
average, compared to 119 per day during the first half of 2004
- Educational institutions and small businesses(end users included) was the most targeted by
KasperskyÂ’s overview of 2004 and 2005 indicates the following24 :
Behaviour Growth rate 2004 against
Growth rate 2005 against
Email-Worm -20% 8%
IM-Worm ^ (average = 1 per month) ^ (average = 28 per month)
IRC-Worm -28% -1%
Net-Worm 21% 29%
P2P-Worm -50% -36%
Worm -1% 24%
Virus -54% -28%
VirWare -37% 7%
Source : Kaspersky Labs : VirWare growth rates 2004 - 2005.
The lack of P2P worms is, I think, a logical consequence of the RIAAÂ’s busts around the U.S, and
the global response towards P2P networks copyright infringement. The rest is pretty evident
Use and abuse of malware
DDOS extortion
Source : E-Crime Watch Survey 2004
The other directly performs successful DDOS attack to demonstrate capability, and than
demands, a clear psychological attack, that should provoke impulse paying. ThereÂ’s a clear
indication of the obvious botmastersÂ’ dominance and motivation, and organizations paying are
fueling the growth of this practice. For instance, Authorize.net25 got under DDoS out of an
extortion attempt, and perhaps the most decent reading I ever came cross on the topic is a
CSOÂ’s article thatÂ’s a very realistic one26.
2004Â’s E-Crime Watch Survey results
match other research findings. Malware
and DoS attacks occupy the top 3
positions(2005Â’s version shows an
increase in all crimes, but it is my
opinion that extortion attempts do not
even get reported!). Any web site
could suffer a DdoS extortion attempt
causing it direct revenue losses thatÂ’s
hard dollars, and the lost stakeholdersÂ’
confidence in the business. Besides
directly attacking business continuity
and revenue streams, a lot of soft
dollars, that is lost customers, partners,
and overall stakeholdersÂ’ loss of
confidence in the business is what
would follow, and is hard to quantify
thoroughly. DdoS extortion happens
when the botmaster, or his slaves,
contact your requesting $ for not
taking down your site. The web server,
network, or other dedicated server may
or may not be yet attacked prior to
contacting the owners, and that should
be considered the polite approach.
In the beginning of November 2004 until the end of January 2005, the folks from the Honeynet
Project were able to observe 226 DdoS attacks27 against 99 targets. Rather good sample for you
to consider!
How severe can a DDoS attack get?
A typical DDoS extortion letterÂ’s28 tone usually sounds like this :
To: <>
Subject: first letter
Your site is under an attack and will be for this entire weekend. You can increase your pipe all
you want and it won't help. You have a flaw in your network that allows this to take place. You
have 2 choices. You can ignore this email and try keep your site up, which will cost you tens of
thousands of dollars in lost [business] and customers, or you can send us $40k to make sure that
your site experiences no problems.
If you send the $40k your site will be protected not just this weekend, but for the next 12
months. This will let you enjoy business with no worry. If you choose not to pay for our help,
then you will probably not be in business much longer, as you will be under attack each weekend
for the next 20 weeks, or until you close your doors.
You can always choose to wait, see what happens, and then contact us for our help when you
realize you can't do it yourself, however, then it will cost you more and your site will still be
down. The choice is yours as we await your response
P.S. The sites that were attacked and paid last weekend are happy that they paid and are
What should also be taken into consideration when dealing with DdoS attacks, is how your
position as the targeted victim will affect your ISPÂ’s other customersÂ’ performances, and how
may the ISP actually react. Would your in-house, and off the shelf tools manage to protect you,
I came across a “great” 3GB/s
(!?) graph(thatÂ’s in 2004). Now
you should ask yourself, would
total cost of ownership of the
business, the costs of the
bandwidth, the DDoS attack
protection solution, or the
botmasterÂ’s deal with the devil
style proposition can solve the
situation. If youÂ’re thinking big,
each and every time an
organization pays, it not only
risks a repeated demand, but is
also fueling the growth of the
practice in itself – so don’t do it!
and should you, and most importantly how, deal with the extortionist without affecting business
DDoS on demand/hire
ThereÂ’s a lot of demand for paying to teens to shut down your competitors and hoping they
would go under the radar, and while ethics are excluded, given these get busted, theyÂ’ll be the
first to forward the responsibility to the buyer of the service. ThereÂ’s also a clear indication of
market for such services, and sooner or later these individuals will improve their communication
skills, thereby increasing the impact of these attacks. For instance, Jay Echouafni, CEO of TV
retailer Orbit Communications, paid a group of botmasters to DDoS his competitors, where the
outage costs were estimated at $2 million29. Another case of DDoS on demand occurred in
March, 2005, when the FBI arrested a 17 year old and a Michigan man for orchestrating a DdoS
attack, again causing direct monetary loses30. DDoS attacks, and the ease of gaining capability in
this field are clearly increasing.
I wonder how many businesses would actually resist to such in a offer, and what if attackers
start getting even more smarter and exploit the momentum of a certain situation, to further
increase the value of their proposition?
Botnets and Zombie hosts
Botnets as a concept of utilizing all infected nodes at the same time, is causing the industry
major damages. Hundreds of thousands of fully controlled Internet connected hosts, with
amazing bandwidth, storage and sensitive information stored within could be easily utilized to
perform the majority of security attacks we are witnessing these days.
A modest Botnet dominated IRC channel, courtesy of CERT
I wouldnÂ’t go into details of what a botnet is, how it communicates, as IÂ’m certain the majority of
readers are pretty aware of the way it functions. In the long-term, encrypted or covert command
and communication systems will appear, and the currently stripped IRCDs would seem like
dinosaur practices for sure. TodayÂ’s open source nature of malware, benefits malware authors to
easily enter the scene though modifying publicly downloadable botnet sources and cause huge
headaches and financial losses to everyone. A typical initiation of a DDOS attack against a victim
can be seen in Honeynet ProjectÂ’s research on Botnets :
[###FOO###] <~nickname> .scanstop
[###FOO###] <~nickname> .ddos.syn 151.49.8.XXX 21 200
[###FOO###] <-[XP]-18330> [DDoS]: Flooding: (151.49.8.XXX:21) for 200 seconds [...]
[###FOO###] <-[2K]-33820> [DDoS]: Done with flood (2573KB/sec).
[###FOO###] <-[XP]-86840> [DDoS]: Done with flood (351KB/sec).
[###FOO###] <-[XP]-62444> [DDoS]: Done with flood (1327KB/sec).
[###FOO###] <-[2K]-38291> [DDoS]: Done with flood (714KB/sec).
Source :
Of course, many other galleries31 of botnets are available online.
Another growing trend is that of malware authors renting full access to botnets, so the temporary
owner could do wherever his/her capabilities and intentions reach. The possibility to connect and
control hundreds of thousands of infected hosts altogether and maintain the connection, is what
malicious attackers are originally aiming for, besides the $$$, of course. Perhaps the biggest
botnet publicly reported so far consists of (approximately) 1.5M compromised computers32, so
botnets can indeed be considered as a major threat to every Internet business or participant.
Pay-Per-Click search advertising on a mass scale is the true financially sound solution to online
ads, but Pay-Per-Click-Hijacking is à very commonly practice nowadays, and botnets take their
shot. In fact, Google was recently sued for pay-per-click abuse practices34 so you can consider
that itÂ’s actually happening, and IÂ’m sure given that their revenues comes primarily from
AdWords, they are definitely taking it serious. However, many other pey-per-click ad providers
can, and are easily targeted as well.
Pay-Per-Click-Hijacking is a fully realistic practice these days. For instance, an SDBot variant35
detected by Eric at the, is a suitable example of how malware is able to
automatically generate revenue, vote, or count as a visit :
A recent publication, courtesy of CERT also gives a simple visualization of the feature :
Source : CERT, Coordination
Clickable indeed equals fraudable in this case, and the very fact of “owning” someone’s unique IP
gives you the opportunity to influence any place where itÂ’s required as a guarantee of
uniqueness. Is it just me, or I am spotting a great business opportunity in here for instance
SophosÂ’s ZombieAlert36 service in direct combination with anti-click fraud solutions. But should a
malware infected user by denied the right to generate revenue whatsoever? I am also a little
surprised out of the lack of piggybacking on this feature, given the vast amounts of data on
zombie PCs anti virus solutions have, of course, among pretty much every security vendor. Pay-
Per-Click-Hijacking scams will continue getting even more sophisticated.
Cryptoviral extortion / Ransomware
The concept isnÂ’t new as it was first seen with the appearance of The Disk Killer virus37 in June,
1989. But its weakness of using a weak encryption algorithm made it easy to restore the data. In
fact, thatÂ’s the current problem with this type of malware today, weak algorithms, and actual
implementation. Though, my favorite is One_Half38, which as a matter of fact I got infected with
back in 1994. It encrypts folders prior to accessing them, until it encrypts half of the disk space.
A recent variant was spotted in 2004, thatÂ’s W32/GPcode39. It searches for specific file
extensions, encrypts them and demands ransom. And given todayÂ’s crucial availability of
information, the trend will continue growing.
A cryptoviral attack basically takes data as a hostage, encrypted with the authorÂ’s public key,
naturally wiping out the unencrypted data, and demanding a ransom for it. Whether a retrovirus
attack or a future trend, if well executed the possibilities and damage caused by such infections,
would definitely test your security flexibility.
Adam YoungÂ’s in-depth research on cryptovirology40 provides an great overview of the concept.
It opens up a discussion on “kleptographic attacks41 ones that utilize subliminal channels to
transmit things like: private signing keys, private decryption keys, symmetric keys, etc. outside of
a cryptosystem (e.g., smartcard)”. Future attacks would be definitely better planned and
executed compared to the current situation.
However, I doubt cryptoviruses would be launched on a mass scale, as it would raise too much
noise, which is why I believe the actual metrics on that type of malware arenÂ’t as extensive and
they would be. It opens up yet another point to consider, and that is related to the momentum
IÂ’ve mentioned, would an organization pay the ransom if its last accessed files/folders for half of
the work day are about to get deleted, not just held hostage? And what if they demonstrate it,
since they got nothing to lose in this case?
Platform for disseminating other junk
The odds are, that a percentage of the global spam sent today is coming straight from your PC.
Botnets are actively utilizing their connectivity to the Internet for spreading spam, phishing,
worms, do hostsÂ’ mapping, act as platform for spreading, or hijacking backdoored malware, that
platform is functioning right there in front of us. An entry at the Incident HandlerÂ’s Diary42, for
instance mentions that use of Brazillian defacers(the world champions) for hosting of phishing
sites on defaced servers has been already happening, yet another indicator of the growing
consolidation of different parties and a factor for growth.
The majority of these attacks, as well as malware in itself are getting increasingly localized, in
both, their targets, and social engineering, even network vulnerabilities. Exploiting the
momentum of local events, organizationÂ’s reputation, and total impersonation of an
organization/individual is getting even more popular, because itÂ’s successful. A recent, rather odd
case related to localized malware, was when a person that happened to possess child-porn
images, though he received an official police warning. That very same local police warning, was
actually sent from a worm43!
Mass Identity theft and financial abuse
Keylogging, taking active screenshots of browser sessions (perhaps to better tailor future
attacks), malware authors are also turning the usability of E-banking and its visibility, into easily
categorized databases to keep an eye on. For instance, in may, 2005, the Trojan-
PSW.Win32.Agent.aa44, was found to steal data from over 2764 bank sites45, from over 100
countries, thatÂ’s not just a hobbyist. According to Valerie McNeven, advisor on cybercrime to the
U.S Treasury, cybercrime yielded more revenues the drug tradeÂ’s $105 billion for first time in
200446. Even though this could be doubtful given the hard to quantify soft and hard dollars of
cybercrime, IÂ’m sure it indeed surpasses drug trafficking in respect to popularity and potential for
gains, illegal, of course. Moreover, KasperskyÂ’s TrojWare growth rates47, indicate a 115%
increase in Banker trojans(stealing banking/financial information) in 2005 against 2004, yet
another indicator itÂ’s indeed a growing trend.
Around the industry
During the year, F-Secure built a Bluetooth viruses lab48 thatÂ’s indeed a serious commitment from
their side on playing a future strategic role in this growing market segment that they seem so
good at developing. Sophos introduced the ZombieAlert49 concept, notifying companies or
customers when and if there are part of a botnet. Symantec is getting deeper in storage with
their Veritas acquisition50, meaning even broader penetration of their security solutions. On the
other hand vendors are starting to actively research, or directly license rootkit protecting
technologies in order to remain competitive. Overall, compared to previous years, vendors are
releasing much more detailed, and sometimes scary, not biased malware statistics, while I
greatly feel more attention should be paid to R&D, and anything theoretical, besides thinking that
appliances are the natural evolution. They may be, but your “know-how” is what would prove
most valuable in the long-term.
Another trend that I already mentioned, is the ongoing close collaraboration between
independent researchers, system administrators and anti virus vendors, that is proving highly
beneficial to improving their early reaction capabilities to new pieces “in the wild”.
A report51 released by Kaspersky Labs, gives a good overview of what antivirus vendors are up to
compared to one another :
Source: Kaspersky Labs,
Mind you, rootkits capabilities would be able to reset the life cycles of many of the segments
covered by malware (adware, spyware, trojans etc.) in the upcoming future, and so will solutions
hopefully emerge.
Should we witness the consolidation between though to be main rivals in the upcoming future? I
bet so, since anti virus industry is poised for success, and of course, very intense competition.
With the time(the sooner the better of course), end users and corporate decision makers will
educate themselves even more on what they should expect from a antivirus solution these days.
And either get “it”, a substitute, or switch vendors.
Particular events I didnÂ’t actually find amusing during 2005 were how fast and easy malware
authors started using SonyÂ’s DRM technology52, to extend it into rootkit capabilities in order to
achieve their goals. This transparency in the security industry in respect to the open flow of
information assists both sides, whatÂ’s amazing is how the majority of vendors started taking
credit one by one over who first started the research. So, for months, thousands of users were
infected by SonyÂ’s strategy, without any vendor having a clue about it?! (Psst, no!) Lack of
technology – nope, lack of threat awareness – nope, eventual bad PR fiasco – yep, at the bottom
line this is Sony we are all talking about, a deep-pocketed, highly respected company, or at least
used to be. Think vendors, if it was a malicious insider in a production facility that has managed
to gain access and actually disseminate the malware in such a way – it would end up a story
worth mentioning. But knowing that itÂ’s Sony, and not wanting to blow the whistle in the face of
the company, itÂ’s obvious that sooner or later a researcher or someone will come across this, and
put the majority of vendors in favorable, this time, protective position. What Sony did was up to
their point of view, greatly underestimating the opinionated and the biggest think-tank of the
world. Stuff like this could have worked years ago, if it happens today, sooner or later (a bit later
in this case) will come across strange activities, and have the entire community express an
opinion about.
Another important issue to note about SonyÂ’s case is that lawsuits will follow in only these
countries whose law expertise in computer and network security is way too higher compared to
the majority of others. It is an extremely unpleasant situation for the company, as more attention
and awareness to the issue will also be brought by civil and digital liberties organizations.
Just for the record, F-Secure and Kaspersky are keeping it customer-friendly with team blogs,
compared to the other players, playing it corporately, and sticking to reports and analyses only.
Blogs save the momentum though, and the echo generated out of a discovery are always
Of course, we can have an endless discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of anti virus
solution, the point is that the industry has been pretty active for the past several years!
05. Factors contributing to the rise of malware
If I were to include them all, I would need another several weeks research. And quantity of the
factors isnÂ’t of importance, but highlighting the major ones. Have a point of view? Drop a line!
- Documentation transformed into source code
Extremely easy entry on the scene, given that what used to be howtoÂ’s and documentation on
how to write worms turned into open source code thatÂ’s can the theoretically be discussed and
commented on every web forum out there. Source code of malware can be easily found online,
or requested offline in the form of a CD/DVD. The globalized Internet allows the hosting of
questionable in other countries materials, while a great deal of people are still convinced that
security could be improved out of having source code freely available. IDS and anti virus filtering
experiments with source code, both original, and modified, have always been an option, and so
are wannabe authors. For instance, Fanbot.f was developed using the source code of Mydoom
and the SbBot variants, and even left the message inside the code53. Though, malwareÂ’s source
code truly “wants to be free” these days.
- Vulnerabilities, even patches, easily turned into exploits
The current number of vulnerabilities reported, their severity and the use of security research
tools for crafting exploits54, are shrinking the anyway huge window of opportunity posed by
released vulnerabilities and working exploits. Given all this, the modulation and impact of
malware on an enormous number of hosts worldwide, todayÂ’s malware is successfully evaluating
the response of the Internet community towards dealing with 0day, or 1day vulnerabilities.
ThereÂ’s been recently a lot of media reports on 0bay vulnerability market55, that I expressed an
opinion on in one of my blog posts. Basically a malware could be constantly “loaded” with new
modules, and besides exploiting witty social engineering vulnerabilities, authors prefer to exploit
vulnerabilities mostly. There has always been and will always be a discussion on whether the
release of vulnerability (no exploit included) improves security or damage it. The thing is when?
Now, or in the near future, because todayÂ’s transparency and active discussions are still leaving
the unaccountable by anyone vendors in a catch-up mode. And while they are fighting bugs on
their solutions portfolio, the rest of the Internet in a “stay tuned” situation.
Software vendors release patches on a freewill basis in respect to time, given they are not legally
obliged to do so, itÂ’s a connected world and security is the trade-off, some will say. We can
though, argue as the current model of malware attacks abusing the Net as a whole quite often
puts vendors and their stakeholders in a “catch-up” mode. For instance :
- The time between the disclosure of the vulnerability and the release of an associated exploit
was 6.0 days
- The average patch-release time for the first 6 months was 54 days. This means that, on
average, 48 days elapsed between the release of an exploit and the release of an associated
patch. I must also add that according to IronPort56, a security appliance vendor, not only does
vulnerabilities act as a growth factor, but the collaborative approach of the anti virus industry left
your business exposed to risks in the wild for 56 days this year. Also, consider going through AvtestÂ’s
statistics on the vendorsÂ’ responses57.
- Clear signs of consolidation on the malware scene
One of the important events on the malware scene, that greatly changed, and made it much
more dangerous, was the consolidation between different parties. The lack of misconfigured
email servers acting as a platform for the dissemination of junk, made it necessary that malware
authors start crawling around hard drives, successfully obtaining a huge number of fresh and
valid email addresses. Web site defacers are offering the web servers for hosting of, both
payload, and actual fake sites. And exactly the opposite. While thinking youÂ’re at,
you might be actually surfing someone elseÂ’s hard drive, courtesy of a malware author. Each of
these groups have advantageous approaches compared to the others, and uniting and
exchanging updated information between one another is causing even more competitive fight
with the criminals.
- Over 960M unique Internet users their connectivity, or purchasing power
To me, the penetration of the Internet in a Windows world, with millions of connected to the
same highway hosts, actively taking advantage of E-commerce, is what lures malware authors to
launch more attacks. What should also be noted, is that, itÂ’s not just someoneÂ’s financial data, or
non existent “top secret” information stored on their PC an attacker looks for these days.
Instead, itÂ’s the overall Internet connectivity of the host, itÂ’s bandwidth, and even storage
capacity, as illegal hosting on demand will emerge as a concept anytime now in my opinion.
It is not just the profit-maximization opportunity seekers that go through quarterly E-commerce
data. Malware authors, and the rest of cybercriminals are also pretty aware of the growth of
online advertising, and E-commerce as whole. Cybercrime as a concept is evolving, and
cybercrimes are often a real-life criminalÂ’s cash cows.
A recent case with a drug raid in Oregon shred more light on the fact that real-life
criminals are actively taking advantage of various online exploitation techniques58. While the
information can naturally be obtained through common identity theft tactics, such as
dumpest diving, information gathering, impersonation, direct request, phishing, and stealing
login information out of malware infected users for the purpose of illegal funding is a real
possibility in the long-term.
- The media as a fueling factor for growth
Malware authors logically hate to get on the front page, it would ruin any temporary advantages
against the vendors, and consequently the potential victims. Even though the media, as always,
is actively reporting on each new variant, even speculating on whatÂ’s actually going on, havenÂ’t
been their core competency recently. I greatly feel, more attention should be paid to what
matters in an anti virus solution, can a recent event directly affect me or my organization, and
what to do about it, instead of emphasizing on malware names. Now, thatÂ’s **** of an
appropriate moment to mention the possible misunderstandings posed by cross-reference
malware names, some even make the news too59. DonÂ’t get me wrong, itÂ’s the media that has
the capacity to communicate all your values.
- The demand for illegal services
There will always be such a demand, and thatÂ’s one of the core principles of economics,
specialization, namely, a malware author doesnÂ’t have the background necessary to efficiently
harvest/crawl for fresh email addresses, this is where the spammer and phishers come into place
bring in know-how. People do impulse things like shutting down their competition over the
Internet given with the false sense of security concerning the guy hired. Spammers also
constantly need fresh hosts to spread their “message”, and the same goes for phishers. For
instance, cybercriminals forward responsibility(or do they actually?!) though renting access to the
botnet, while I am certain the ease of developing and maintaining an electronic marketplace for
pretty much anything illegal in this case, is a fully realistic scenario that the ShadowCrew actually
realized for a little while.
06. Future malware trends
The nature of trends covered here is in no way intended to be complete, simply because you
would often find the scenarios for the future either too big, or too narrow. I have anyway tried to
compile my point of view in the following way :
- mobile malware will be successfully monetized
Generating buzz around mobile malware will again get rather common during 2006.
Source : Kaspersky Labs “Overview of Mobile Malware60”
CardBlock61 should also be mentioned as the evil side of Fontal in a certain way. It deletes pretty
much everything, and password-protects the card with a random password, as soon as the
device is restarted of placed in another card. Mobile malware has a lot of “potential”, and at the
moment authors are just actively experimenting, lack of forensics as an incentive? On the other
hand, MMS malware with a lot of social engineering involved, can also easily break the ice. I
think timing is an important factor here. If users start receiving any kind of malware somehow
related with the event they are current at, many will fell victims of course. We would on the other
hand witness the inevitable monetization of mobile malware, such as the abuse of premium
numbers, impersonation scams, ring tones and melodies revenue generators,
voting/participation(sms) schemes and many others. As the world goes towards an increased use
and interest in mobile banking, the GSM commerce that will emerge will again open up countless
opportunities for malicious attacks to take advantage of. Would mobile phishing also emerge in
that case?
Mobile malware will evolve, mainly because of the penetration of faster networks, and the levels
of new features that come up on the market these days. Malware session keylogging,
dissemination though the contact list, harvesting phone numbers are retro techniques that would
inevitably reappear on this front, or at least authors will try to develop. Something else, to
consider is the use of mobile malware as a propagation vector, in the form of a URL for instance,
or successful social engineering approach, given enough numbers can and are collected. For
instance, Commwarrior.C62 immediately replies to incoming messages with an infected MMS that
contains previous chats within, an improved effect of social engineering, and thatÂ’s just the
beginning in my point of view. SPIM, that is mobile spam, has been around for a while, and with
According to vendors, it
has already reached the
100 variants barrier. We
are seeing it everywhere
due to the fact that the
number of mobile devices
outpaces the number of
PCs in the world, yes,
thatÂ’s true, and a bit of a
common sense. I expect
to see further research on
mobile devices
vulnerabilities, Symbian
devices mostly, as this is
where most top of the
breed models come from.
FontalÂ’s ability to kill the
phone, makes it
particularly devastating if
successfully disseminated.
around an event/country.
Telecoms and Cellular providers building Internet gateways to further improve performance, I
see a clear indication to worry about.
Key point :
The number and penetration of mobile devices greatly outpaces that of the PCs. Malware authors
are actively experimenting and of course, progressing with their research on mobile malware.
The growing monetization of mobile devices, that is generating revenues out of users and their
veto power on certain occasions, would result in more development in this area by malicious
authors. SPIM63 would also emerge with authors adapting their malware for gathering numbers.
Mobile malware is also starting to carry malicious payload. Building awareness on the the issue,
given the research already done by several vendors, would be a wise idea.
- Localization as a concept will attract the codersÂ’ attention,
By localization of malware, I mean social engineering attacks, use of spelling and grammar free
native language catches, IP Geolocation, in both when it comes to future or current segmented
attacks/reports on a national, or city level. We are already seeing localization of phishing and
have been seeing it in spam for quite some time as well. The “best” phish attack to be achieved
in that case would be, to timely respond on a nation-wide event/disaster in the most localized
way as possible. If I were to also include intellectual property theft on such level, it would be too
paranoid to mention, still relevant I think. Abusing the momentum and localizing the attack to
target specific users only, would improve its authenticity. For instance, IÂ’ve come across
harvested emails for sale segmented not only on cities in the country involved, but on specific
industries as well, that could prove invaluable to a malicious attack, given todayÂ’s growth in more
targeted attacks, compared to mass ones.
Key point :
The ability to tell more about the total number of infected hosts, in respect to their geographical
location for future attacks, would continue to attract the authorÂ’s attention. Picture an author
thatÂ’s aware of the exact locations of all the infected victims, and that their native languages.
And these and various other system stats are spread among the other cyber criminals, in the
ecosystem I see as a natural evolution. Localization would easily result in far more effective
attacks, compared to the current mass mailings.
- Open Source malware
Have we reached the level where malware would be freely modifiable for anyone wanting to
extend its functionality? IÂ’m afraid itÂ’s already happening, and we can truly define it as open
source malware, as people are actively modifying it, adding more features. Agobot/Sdbot and
many other are released under the GPL license, and anti virus vendors are already counting
thousands of variants produced under the same code.
Distributing the source code contributes to the increased anonymity of the real authors and the
diversifying of the attention already gained over a particular variant. YouÂ’d better have you fans
in the news, without even having to bother theyÂ’ll ever compete with you on know-how, instead
of getting all the attention at your malware. Making the source code public is a bit of a dirty, yet
visionary trick from malware authorÂ’s point of view, it brings many more newbies to be caught on
the radar, instead of the experiences ones. The noise generated by the script kiddies and
wannabe media heroes, creates a great environment for the real authors, to keep playing behind
the curtains, and theoretically, to hijack the most successful variants based on their very own
code. Another very significant benefit of open source malware is how easily new features and
concepts get added, thus benefiting the malware scene as a whole, and requiring more
competitive play from the vendors.
Key point :
Open source malware is a real issue thatÂ’s currently resulting in hundreds of copycats out there
easily launching a bot on their own. And whether successful or not, this fact is responsible for the
flood of variants of known families. That is, of course until an easily exploitable remote
vulnerability appears, which happens rather often these days by the way.
- Anonymous and illegal hosting of (copyrighted) materials
TodayÂ’s advances in transferring huge files across the Internet with the help of BitTorrent, get
easily implemented in malware. And even though we are witnessing the decline of malware using
P2P as a propagation vector, we would start witnessing the use of infected zombies for
unauthorized hosting of any kind of content.
In the brief “future trends”, that I included in The Complete Windows Trojans paper, I slightly
opened up the question of illegal hosting service, so I was greatly surprised the idea hasnÂ’t been
more popular, until recently of course.
We should see even more “utilization” of an infected host, and the way we are seeing how botnet
masterÂ’s verify the bandwidth availability of all PCs, that way they will easily start verifying the
storage capacity, and get impressed for sure. Picture a huge distributed storage capability, where
the loss of a single host, wouldnÂ’t affect the actual dissemination of the files in question, neither
it would influence the rise of bandwidth usage. BitTorrent disrupted the concept of transferring
huge files over the Net. As weÂ’ve already witnessed during December, 2005, a relatively modest,
still powerful enough botnet of 18, 000 computers64 started using BitTorrent to transfer pirated
files over the hosts. Certain users will definitely wake up as true porn kings :))
Key point :
The overall demand for illegal service that I already stated as one of the main factors fueling the
growth of malware, would result in the abuse of an infected hostÂ’s storage capacity. Given
todayÂ’s P2P concepts, and the disruptive BitTorrent technology, it is not longer required to on
purposely slow down transfers to hide the activity on a userÂ’s host. Connections have evolved,
and so have technologies, and taking even a broader note, I could argue a hostÂ’s bandwidth
speed, and storage capacity could be easily bargained on when renting botnets, or the service in
- The development of an Ecosystem
Google, AOL, and Yahoo!Â’s affiliations can be clearly defined as an ecosystem. GoogleÂ’s search
technology achieves explicit velocity, and itÂ’s advertising programÂ’s quality generates revenues
using AOLÂ’s and Yahoo! massive audiences -- everyoneÂ’s happy! A huge percentage of both,
Google, AOL, and Yahoo!Â’s revenues are fairly distributed among them, simply because they
wouldnÂ’t be able to survive on their own, or at least miss **** a lot of profitable opportunities.
The higher the pressure put on malware authors and other parties, the higher the chance of the
development of such an ecosystem among them. Whenever a natural disaster happens, letÂ’s say
in China, a phisher would seek localized email addresses, ones provided by both malware
authors, and spammers. That very same ecosystem IÂ’m talking about, would also bring sellers
and buyers of “services” together. Imagine a database that keeps track of important variables
such as IP, Browser version, hostÂ’s OS, geolocates it, and passes it to everyone, or even worse
zombies stats for rent. Taking into consideration reconnaissance and OS fingerprinting for
compiling hit-lists, and we have a problem.
Now imagine a malware, such as Bagle, or any other implementing spamtool modules to harvest
the victimÂ’s hard drive for email. In our case, one that goes through the most recent emails
received, strips out the senderÂ’s IP addresses, and both confirms it as an active one, prior to
including the clientÂ’s version, and itÂ’s geolocation. TodayÂ’s witty malware of spotting non existent
domains on the hard drive, left on purposely through “poisoning” techniques, will inevitable
evolve in its understandings of the opportunities.
Key point :
The true benchmark for serious commitment, perhaps investment in the malware scene in my
opinion would be the development, and eventual discovery of such an ecosystem, the way
ShadowCrewÂ’s electronic marketplace was tracked and shut down. In would emerge not only
because the environment would become even more competitive for authors, but also because of
the clear gains for all the parties, given they realize them. From another point of view,
centralization is always a weakness, but that can also be questionable.
- Rise in encryption and use of packers
As far as packed malware is concerned, it would continue to gain even more popularity by
malware authors looking for ways to make it harder to analyze their code. Looking at KasperskyÂ’s
metrics on packed malware, we see, a modest, but increasing trend in this field. And besides
thinking that encryption is a logical development, todayÂ’s huge number of commercial packers
that are available get often purchased, or pirated copies are obtained.
Year Increase in packed malware relative to other malware
2003 28.94%
2004 33.06%
2005 (forecast) approx. 35%
Source : Kaspersky Labs
The use of the Hacker Defender65, its Golden Hacker Defender edition, as the most popular ones,
or any other packer to make it harder for a vendor to analyze the code, is allowing it to win
necessary time to infect the seed victims that would improve the chances for success of the
malware. We would definitely witness more development in this field any time now.
Key point : Winning time gives authors a crucial temporary advantage to infecting seed victims,
making it hard to thoroughly analyze code and purchasing commercial tools or obtaining illegal
copies of them, should be considered as a common practice. The interesting part is how
developers of rootkits are adding protection against rookit detectors, and exactly the opposite, as
pointed out in a post66 at F-secureÂ’s Blog.
- 0day malware on demand
We have already seen this, and we will continue seeing it ever more. A web site that I regularly
used to peek at(now down, domain though so itÂ’s up somewhere else!) was offering
specially crafted, and of course undetected by antivirus vendors malware coding services, rootkit
capabilities included. For instance, “The Symantec DeepSight Threat analyst team has
uncovered evidence indicating that bot networks that can be used for malicious purposes are
available for hire. In July 2005, in an Internet relay chat (IRC) discussion that the DeepSight
team was monitoring, a self-proclaimed bot network owner revealed the size, capacity, and price
of a bot network that he was making available. Customized bot binary code was also available for
between U.S.$200 and U.S.$300”67.
Key point : Having open source malware means knowing how to add modularity, make it truly
undetectable, and perhaps even having build-in special features, seen nowhere else. Malware like
this, if its well programmed, could bypass the majority of anti virus solutions, and in case any
other perimeter based risk management solutions arenÂ’t in place, it would really do a lot of
damage. What’s also important to note, is the growing communication between such “sellers”
and “buyers” would further make entries on the malware scene much easier, than they are right
The number of people capable of coding malware is growing(or copy and pasting!), and itÂ’s up to
their social and moral obligations not to start offering their services to the great number of
people looking for them. So treat your coders with respect, please :)
- cryptoviral extortions will emerge
ThatÂ’s a bit of a creative in a nasty sense of humor type of malware, no regrets, no demands, the
art of malware is battlefield :) After ensuring whatÂ’s most precious to an organization or
individual is made useless by encryption, the desperate victim is the one having to initiate the
contact and comply with the extortion. If you even got infected with a malware, lost something in
one way or another, and had the chance to contact the author, what would be the first thing to
say?? In this case, you will have to negotiate in one way or another and cut the physical damage
part :)) Making sure the infected data hasnÂ’t actually leaked out of the organization, but is only
remaining encrypted on its network, is a good sign. But in the future, authors will find ways to
adapt, would another market for trade secrets emerge, thatÂ’s a scary thought! Such kinds of
attacks should be well researched as they will soon start appearing one way or another.
Key point : directly attacking the availability of information and successfully establishing a
backend communication(infected victim contacts the malware author) is a witty approach
malware authors are starting to use. The encryption algorithm, and its actual implementation are
currently its weakest points, as well as given no data leaked out of the organization. And of
course, clean, and very recent backups.
- When the security solution ends up the security problem itself?
Another fact worth mentioning that I havenÂ’t seen active discussions on, is what happens when
the security solution turns into the security problem in itself? Naturally, having the solution would
definitely limit the more serious security problem that would result without it, but what should
also be considered is the possibility of worms directly exploiting a vulnerability in the solution. We
have already seen this with the Welchia worm, 1 day from vulnerability to worm, successfully
attacked the majority of ISSÂ’s customers, thatÂ’s as a matter of fact a huge number of the Fortune
500 companies. No way to respond to a threat like this given the timeframe, so imagine what
could have happened if the payload caused both, hard and soft dollars losses. I should also
mention Sony BMGÂ’s DRM solution that ended up first as a security threat in itself, and than as
propagation vector for malware authors, though it is my opinion that the greatest benefit is the
awareness that it built on rootkit technologies. An interesting fact was also pointed out by Mike
Rash at is that it could also mean you are doing a violation of the DMCI act
for trying to get rid of Sony’s DRM protection, now that’s just “great”68.
On the other hand given that some of MyDoomÂ’s versions block over 250 firewalls, as well as
infected hosts from updating themselves, malware authors are clearly interested in attacking the
vendors themselves. Both, directly and indirectly. Another frontline, perhaps a little bit of
unpopular one is that of the vendorsÂ’ or anyone providing security policies or updates and the
transparency of their update locations/mechanisms. If we were to go through the known
vulnerabilities of known antivirus vendors, we should also go deeper and find out their response
time. Plenty of timeframes to abuse. In the future, either through 0day vulnerabilities
markets(like the ones already emerging), or through extra efforts, malware authors will pay more
attention to attacking the antivirus solution directly.
Another point to consider is that malware authors often think “the best defense as the attack”,
that also sounds like “hack or be hacked”, but it’s a weak practice namely, defined by some as
retrovirus techniques, future malware will greatly emphasize on directly attacking anti-virus
solutions, 0-day vulnerabilities abuse, killing the application, or blocking its most precious
signatures update feature. Quite some malware, first disables the solutions, than downloads its
payload with ease. I can argue that, the majority of malware authors update their signatures
more often than the majority of end users and organizations tend to. Currently companies arenÂ’t
paying serious attention to tackling this major threat to their effectiveness. The now out-ofdevelopment
Trojan Defense Suite (TDS) was pretty aware of how fast authors would start
targeting its functioning, that is why a randomly chosen process window, lack of default
installation directories and other techniques were in place to safeguard against possible
interference. I havenÂ’t recently come across great research on the topic, though SnakeByteÂ’s
list69 that I first featured in the Complete Windows Trojans paper, should be taken as an
example. As a matter of fact, you can freely find, executables, process names etc. of products
blocked/killed by malware thatÂ’s already detected. Information that is too convenient to be
available in such a way on any vendorÂ’s web site in my opinion.
Key point : Is it just me or I havenÂ’t seen a proactive vulnerability release by a vendor recently?
Should vendors be held liable for Quality Assurance in respect to security, or is it the coders70?
The point for companies is to achieve security flexibility, and a great deal of appliance vendors
already offer multiple anti virus solutions integration for the purpose. Moreover, policy based
protecting, for instance, DecemberÂ’s vulnerability in SymantecÂ’s over 40 products, could be
tackled by blocking the use of RAR archives scanning at all. Security is taken care of, but what
about productivity if N % of the organizationÂ’s workforce have to adapt with the measure in the
very last moment? What about the somehow inevitable lost of productivity due to security
solutions, that although deals with risk of a real security event, is under great pressure to
constantly improve performance of its solutions? “The wild”, has gone even wilder these days,
and you no longer need access to a commercial alerting service to know that. You could just plug
yourself in, and see whatÂ’s actually going on. HTTP scanning, host based scanning, on-the-fly
scanning, hourly updates, is a load that vendors are greatly working on improving. I am not
being a pessimist here, as in a “perfect world”, productivity and world R&D spending will triple
due to safer networks, malware-free :))
- intellectual property theft worms
The success of ransomware/cryptoviral extortion, is a clear indication of the authorsÂ’ intentions to
take more advantage of the intellectual property stolen on an infected host. Myfip71 is that type
of IP theft worm. It attempts to steal files with the following extensions :
.pdf – Adobe Portable Document Format
.doc – Microsoft Word Document
.dwg – AutoCAD drawing
.sch – CirCAD schmatic
.pcb – CirCAD circuit board layout
.dwt – AutoCAD template
.dwf – AutoCAD drawing
.max – ORCAD layout
.mbd – Microsoft Database
WeÂ’ve seen malware that attempts to steal PGP private keys, but we havenÂ’t heard of it
successfully attacking an enterprise, or anyone else taking advantage of PKI for
instance(everyone!). Should we also consider cd keys of software or games weÂ’ve purchased as
an intellectual property? We should, and these would start getting abused even more than they
are now. Picture a highly segmented attack(country as the choice) with the idea to steal as much
intellectual property as possible from a certain industry. Another fully realistic scenario would be
the use of malware for industrial espionage, in this case, infecting a companyÂ’s network and
transferring it back to the attacker. Covert channels72 implementation would emerge as well. As a
matter of fact weÂ’ve always seen this in the Israeli trojan espionage case. I made a comment in
June, 200573 :
What’s the easiest way to “catch up” or match your competitors propositions and
even exceed them? No, itÂ’s not called competitive advantage or business intelligence,
but taking advantage of remote access control tools to do industrial espionage. Even
though major organizations are, at least believed, to be taking care of malware, the story
clearly points out the devastating effects of what happens when you donÂ’t take your
rivals into consideration. The Trojan, self-coded might somehow get ignored by
the anti-virus scanners in place, but whatÂ’s to note is a technique using the
autostart feature of CD that I described in The Complete Windows Trojans Paper
back in 2003 and thought it was outdated or at least enough awareness was build
on its possible abusive use. Hopefully the case will raise even more awareness
on the fact that private investigation companies are actively using Trojans to
spy on individuals, and that companies striving to innovate or catch up are
actually interested in these services, Ethics, E what?!
Would enterprise risk management solutions such as Vontu, Reconnex, or any other capture
this data, what if itÂ’s tunneled, encrypted, and than disseminated through BitTorrent, a
functionality that is already gaining grounds? Would malware authors find a way to adapt in here
as well? In case, we extend the scenario even more, the way recently received emails get replied
by a worm, and recently accessed files under extensions of interest, could further take advantage
of the timeframe capability and lead to the success of intellectual property worms. I believe, that
events like these are currently happening, and as always, it takes a little while for an organization
to find out that itÂ’s been infected. Some never even find that information has leaked, until the
media watchdogs pick up the story. That being said, it is important to highlight the way different
organizations value security incidents. The majority, would for instance count the direct loss of
productivity in hourly rate, and the incident recovery costs of the malware infection only.
Quantifying intellectual property is still an academic concept, even though scientifically justified
concepts and a little bit of marginal thinking, (they arenÂ’t 100% accurate of course), can do the
job! It would also be wise to say that intellectual property is the only type of asset that can be at
two different places at the same time!
Key point : Given the vast majority of sensitive, and ready to be abused by competitors,
blackmailers, or hackers, intellectual property worms will emerge during the next couple of years.
They would greatly benefit of the current malware trend of more targeted and less global
attacks, acting as a 0day threat to corporate enterprises, a threat posed by cyber criminals,
competitors, spies, or blackmailers. What that type of malware would have to bypass would be
the enterprise wide risk management solutions such as Vontu, ReconneX, Vericept and Tablus,
ensuring secret or sensitive information doesnÂ’t leak out through the network. In the upcoming
future a great deal of efforts will be placed in finding ways to locate and leak intellectual property
over the Net.
- Web vulnerabilities, and web worms – diversity and explicit velocity
Web application vulnerabilities vs Not affecting Web applications
Thus, exploiting the trust established between the victim and the host in question. How would a
malware author be able to harness the power of the trust established between, letÂ’s say,
ComScoreÂ’s top 10 sites and their visitors? Content spoofing is the where the danger comes from
in my opinion, and obvious web application vulnerabilities, or any bugs whose malicious payload
could be exposed to their audiences. In case you reckon, a nasty content spoofing on Yahoo!Â’s
portal resulted in the following possibility for driving millions of people at a certain URL, if I donÂ’t
trust what I see on or, why bother using the Net at all is a common mass
attitude of course. Anyone with a web site full of web vulnerabilities could act as the intermediary
in a malicious activity, both inside and outside the site or itÂ’s service in particular. If anyone can
provide the biggest, relatively recent snapshot of the known Web, thatÂ’s the most relevant search
engine in the world, Google. What I am trying to imply is the possibility of creating and
Managing to unveil a
vulnerability and
actual exploit for an
Internet community,
of web forum, you
could easily trick
these people into
thinking they are
connecting to the
right host, but get
redirected, or have
their PCs
breached into.
Malware authors or
pretty much anyone
with a little knowledge
could easily obtain.
d i ti it
maintaining huge hit-lists with relatively simple search techniques, an automation, with the use
of “slow” worms, whose activities would usually go beyond the radar.
Key point : Any web property attracting a relatively large number of visitors should be
considered as a propagation vector, for both, malware authors, and others such as phishers, or
botnet brokers74 for instance. The ease of exploiting web vulnerabilities, increases the probability
of such an attack tremendously, so adequate audits for vulns should be regularly considered.
Robert from once gave a prediction75 on the possibilities of web worms as well.
- Hijacking botnets and malware infected computers
No code is perfect, even the malicious one! In case you reckon, W32/Doomjuice, W32/Bagle, and
W32/Welchia attacked MyDoom compromised systems by abusing its weak update mechanism.
Certain worms go in the wild based on vulnerabilities in other worms, so even in case full access
to the botnet cannot be gained, another author could still abuse them. Theoretically, hijacking
botnets is truly sound in my opinion.
Key point : The growing competition on the malware scene would result in far more unethical
events, such as competing authors the virus wars, were an example of this growing trend. In
consequence, future authors would look to piggyback on existing malware, by exploiting
vulnerabilities in the known to dominate the Internet variants. Directly hijacking it though
sniffing, flexibly techniques to acquire the botmaster rights, to both, further conduct illegal
activities, or simply shut it down would represent a growing trend in the upcoming future from
my point of view.
- Interoperability will increase the diversity and reach of the malware
This trend called technology, and market forces, would result in a far more adaptive breed of
malware this time infecting technologies and services we surround ourselves with, and not stay in
front of them(PCs). For instance, during 2005, F-Secure trashed a PSP76, and a Nintendo devices
By interoperability I refer
to namely, standardizing
communication and data
interfaces to further ease
the communication
between different
devices. Think Symbian
for instance. Yet another
point to consider is the
extend to which we are
actually building
networks of
devices in our houses,
even offices!
with code that renders them useless just to show a demonstration. Even though many would
argue these attacks are not poised for success in “the wild”, these experiments will quickly evolve
the way weÂ’ve see it with any type of malware. Cars, gaming boxes, fridges even TiVos will
definitely get connection, given they all do, or would, poses the necessary connectivity.
While the majority of manufacturers and vendors are limiting the use of proprietary OSs for their
devices, thus achieving higher penetration and adding more value to their offerings. This huge
boost having huge impact on the society and businesses as a whole, isnÂ’t left unnoticed by
malware authors, and the more lucrative the reach or severity of the attack, the higher the
research efforts. My point is that, the benefits and disadvantages of standardization, as well as
common data and communication protocols, will increase the diversity of the malware scene
even more. Hopefully, vendors will be ahead of the threats as they appear.
Key summary points
- Malware authors update their multi-vendor anti virus signatures faster than most end
users and enterprises do altogether
- The high pressure put on malware authors by the experienced vendors is causing
them to unite efforts and assets, and realize that itÂ’s hard to compete on their own.
Yet this doesnÂ’t stop them from waging a war in between
- Intellectual property theft worms have to potential to dominate in todayÂ’s
knowledge-driven society acting as tools for espionage
- DonÂ’t matter what you always wanted to do to ecriminals, in case of a cryptoviral
extortion, youÂ’ll be the one having to initiate the contact
- The growing Internet population, E-commerce flow, and the demand for
illegal/unethical services, would fuel the development of an Ecosystem, for anything,
but legal
- The “Web as a platform” is a powerful medium for malware attackers understanding
the new Web
- The unprecedented growth of E-commerce would always remain the main incentive
for illegal activities
7.0 Conclusion
I hope that the points I have raised in this research, would prove valuable to both end users,
businesses and anti-virus vendors. The Internet as a growing force shaping our ways of thinking
and living is as useful, as easy to exploit as well. The clear growth in E-commerce, todayÂ’s opensource
nature of malware, the growing penetration of the Internet in respect to insecure
connected PCs, are among the main driving factors of the scene. Do your homework and stay
ahead of the threats, most of all, less branding when making security decisions, but high
preferences! Please, feel free to direct your opinions, remarks, or any feedback to me, at
dancho.danchev AT or at where you can directly comment on
my publication. Nothing is impossible, the impossible just takes a little while!
Not open for further replies.
Top Bottom