Microsoft didn't crush Storm, counter researchers

Not so fast, says Trend Micro

Microsoft didn't crush the Storm botnet as it has claimed, rival security researchers argued today. Instead, the criminals responsible for the army of compromised computers diversified last year to avoid attention and expand their business.

Paul Ferguson, a network architect with anti-virus vendor Trend Micro, and a colleague, Jamz Yaneza, a Trend Micro research project manager, disputed Microsoft's contention that the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) had beat Storm into submission .

The MSRT is a program that Microsoft updates and automatically redistributes to Windows users each month on Patch Tuesday. It includes definitions for the most popular malware, sniffs systems for malicious code and then deletes it. Microsoft first added detection for the Storm Trojan in September 2007.

By Microsoft's count, the MSRT cleaned more than 526,000 Storm-infected PCs in the final four months of last year. After some back-and-forth between the Storm bot herders and Microsoft, the former gave up, said Jimmy Kuo, a senior security architect with the Redmond, Wash. developer.

"Even though they were able to maintain parts of their botnet, they knew they were in our gun sights," Kuo said in an interview earlier this week. "And ultimately they gave up."

Not so fast, said Trend Micro.

"The MSRT had an impact on Storm," Ferguson acknowledged, citing Trend Micro statistics that showed a 20% to 25% reduction in the number of bots within the Storm botnet late last year. "But there are some key gaps in the reality on the ground.

"Storm is still out there," he said. And active. "We've seen campaigns to renew their [botnet] body count within the last 48 hours."

More important, though, is the big picture, said Ferguson and Yaneza. Storm is certainly diminished, they agreed, but not simply because of Microsoft and its MSRT.

"Storm's operators have been diversifying," said Yaneza, who has followed Storm since it first appeared in early 2007. In fact, the Storm botnet's current size -- considerably smaller than during 2007 -- was a matter of choice, not something forced on the hackers, Yaneza argued.

"They've changed business tactics, and diversified into other botnets, just like the Russian Business Network diversified by getting out of St. Petersburg [Russia] and is now working out of many facilities worldwide," he said.

Researchers, including Yaneza, have linked Storm -- and other botnets -- with the Russian Business Network (RBN), a shadowy network of malicious code and hacker hosting services. Last November, Yaneza and others reported that the RBN pulled up stakes and moved most of its operations to servers based in China. When the media noted the shift, RBN apparently split its hosting services among several Asian countries, a move analysts saw as an attempt to avoid attention and possible action by law enforcement.

"At one time, Storm was a monster that was rented out for all kinds of activities," said Ferguson, ticking off spamming, denial-of-service attacks and malware distribution. "It was one big, huge target. But they diversified. That falls into the 'fly low under the radar' theory."

Some of the botnets that are most active now, Ferguson continued, have connections to Storm, and its creators and managers. "Some of the same people who had a hand in Storm have a hand in the new botnets," he said, naming Bobax and Kracken as two which Trend links to Storm.

"It's virtually impossible to tell who is really behind each of these botnets," Ferguson admitted, "but there are a lot of similarities in methodology."

The bottom line, said the Trend Micro researchers: Storm is still breathing.

"Storm is not down and out," said Ferguson.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?