Botnets?

How does it feel to know that your personal computer can be remotely controlled by someone without your knowledge for ill purposes? Or worse, instead of a single individual having this unauthorized access to your system it can be a group of people over the internet that control what your computer does and how it does it. In the field of Information Security, if your system is involved in such control it is considered a bot: a computer system being controlled by an automated malicious program. In addition, your computer system can be part of a larger group of infected computer systems and these collections of infected computers create botnets. Casually, these bots are also referred to as zombies and the remote controller is called the botmaster. So how are these bots born and grow into botnets?

According to Damballa, an independent security firm’s annual threat report, “at its peak in 2010, the total number of unique botnet victims grew by 654 percent, with an average incremental growth of 8 percent per week ”. Originally, these bots are developed by techsavvy criminals who develop the malicious bot code and then usually release in the open internet. While on the internet, the bot can perform numerous malicious functions based on its code design but it most cases it spreads itself across the internet by searching for vulnerable, unprotected computers to infect. After compromising victims’ computer, these bots quickly hide their presents in difficult to find locations, such as computer’s operating system files. The botmaster’s goal here is to maintain the compromised system behavior as normal as possible so the victim does not become suspicious. Common activities that bots perform at this stage involve registering themselves as trusted program in any anti-virus program that might be on victim’s computer. Moreover, to maintain persistence, bots add their operations in systems startup functions which results in bots automatically reactivating even after shutdown/restart. Throughout this process bots continue to report back to botmaster and wait for further instructions.

Below lists some of the common operations that bots can perform on behalf of its botmaster:

Sending
Stealing
DoS (Denial of Service)
Clickfraud
They send
– spam
– viruses
– spyware
They steal personal and private information and communicate it back to the malicious user:
– credit card numbers
– bank credentials
– other sensitive personal information
Launching denial of service (DoS) attacks against a specified target. Cybercriminals extort money from Web site owners, in exchange for regaining control of the compromised sites.
Fraudsters use bots to boost Web advertising billings by automatically clicking on Internet ad

As the chart above states, there are numerous functions that bots can perform. However, recently bots have mainly been used to conducted Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks: utilizing hundreds or thousands of bots from around the whole world against a single target.  Botmaster’s goal with DDoS is to use thousands of bots with numerous botnets to attempt to access the same resource simultaneously. This overwhelms the resource with thousands of requests per second thus making the resource unreachable. This inaccessibility of the resource has severe effects on legitimate users and requests. According to FBI, “botnet attacks have resulted in the overall loss of millions of dollars from financial institutions and other major U.S. businesses. They’ve also affected universities, hospitals, defense contractors, law enforcements, and all levels of government”.

A misconception exists that if your system does not hold any valuable information or if you do not use your system to conduct online financial transactions than an adversary is less likely to target your system. Unfortunately, as much as we would like this to be true, it is not the case. For botnets the most valuable element is your system’s storage and your internet speed. Our personal computers are now capable of storing and processing terabytes of information seamlessly and are able to use our high speed internet to transfer this information.  As stated by a malware researcher team from Dell SecureWorks, botnets “allows a single person or a group to leverage the power of lots of computers and lots of bandwidth that they wouldn’t be able to afford on their own”.

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http://www.fbi.gov/news/news_blog/botnets-101

https://www.damballa.com/press/2011_02_15PR.php

http://news.discovery.com/tech/what-are-botnets-110304.htm

http://us.norton.com/botnet/

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