Hackers offer subscription, support for their malware

Organised hacking gangs set up malware subscription sites

Like many just-launched e-commerce sites in the world, this unnamed Web site has a fairly functional, if somewhat rudimentary, home page. A list of options at top of the home page allows visitors to transact business in Russian or in English, offers an FAQ section, spells out the terms and conditions for software use and provides details on payment forms that are supported.

But contact details are, shall we say, sparse. That's because the merchandise being hawked on the site -- no we're not going to say what it is -- aren't exactly legitimate. The site offers malicious code that webmasters with criminal intent can use to infect visitors to their sites with a spyware Trojan.

In return for downloading the malware to their sites, Web site owners are promised at least 50 Euros -- about US$66 -- every Monday, with the potential for even more for "clean installs" of the malicious code on end user systems. "If your traffic is good, we will change rates for you and make payout with new rates," the site promises.

As organized gangs increasingly turn to cybercrime, sites like the one described are coming to represent the new face of malware development and distribution, according to security researchers. Unlike malicious code writers of the past who tended to distribute their code to a tight group of insiders or in underground newsgroups, the new breed is far more professional about how it hawks, plies and prices its wares, they said.

"We've been seeing a growth of highly organized managed exploit providers in non-extradition countries" over the past year or so, said Gunter Ollmann, director of security strategies at IBM's ISS X-Force team. For subscriptions starting as low as $20 per month, such enterprises sell "fully managed exploit engines" that spyware distributors and spammers can use to infiltrate systems worldwide, he said.

The exploit code is usually encrypted and uses a range of morphing techniques to evade detection by security software. It is designed to use various vulnerabilities to try and infect a target system. And many exploit providers simply wait for Microsoft's monthly patches, which they then reverse engineer to develop new exploit code against the disclosed vulnerabilities, Ollmann said.

"All you've got to do is just subscribe to them on a monthly basis," Ollmann said. "The going rate is about $20."

One such site was discovered by Don Jackson, a security researcher at SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based managed security service provider. While investigating a Trojan named Gozi recently, Jackson discovered that it was designed to steal data from encrypted SSL streams and send it to a server based in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Trojan took advantage of a vulnerability in the iFrame tags of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and had apparently been planted on several hosted Web sites, community forums, social networking sites and sites belonging to small businesses.

The server to which the stolen information was sent to held more than 10,000 records containing confidential information belonging to about 5,200 home users. It was maintained by a group called 76Service and contained server-side code for stealing data from systems -- as well as code for an administrator interface and a customer interface for data mining, Jackson said.

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