Researchers infiltrate Kraken botnet, could clean it out

But they won't disinfect remotely, citing 'pretty big can of worms' as reason

A group of security researchers Wednesday said they have infiltrated one of the world's biggest botnets and can snatch control of compromised machines from the hackers.

But while 3Com's TippingPoint researchers say they have the ability to disinfect the systems by eradicating the malware installed on the hijacked PCs, the company has decided against the move, citing liability issues.

Pedram Amini, who leads TippingPoint's security research group, and Cody Pierce, a security researcher who is also part of that team, collaborated on a weeklong project that started with the idea of verifying the size of the "Kraken" botnet but ended with an ethical quandary.

Pierce created a fake Kraken command-and-control server by reverse engineering the list of domain names found in a captured sample of the bot, and then registered some of the sub-domains Kraken looks for. The server essentially acted as a command-and-control honeypot that waited for connections from PCs infected with the bot.

"Stated simply, Kraken infected systems worldwide start to connect to a server we control," Amini said in a post to a company blog.

The two researchers monitored the incoming communications from Kraken bots for seven days, Pierce said. "We listened and collected statistics for a week, and filtered out [for] the IP addresses and then the systems," he said on the telephone Wednesday." He was able to identify each infected machine by using the malware's encryption key, which was unique across the entire botnet.

The total count for the week: about 25,000 infected machines.

Others have estimated Kraken's size at between 185,000 and 600,000 compromised PCs. SecureWorks' Joe Stewart, who uses the moniker "Bobax" rather than Kraken for the botnet, pegged it at the lower number earlier this month based on an in-depth traffic analysis and bot-fingerprinting project.

In other words, TippingPoint had identified between 4 per cent and 14 per cent of the total Kraken botnet.

But the company's research didn't stop there. Pierce wrote code that would let him redirect infected PCs, or better yet, use the bot's built-in update mechanism -- something most malware includes -- to remove Kraken.

There, however, things got sticky. "This is where we got into the ethical discussion," Pierce said. He and Amini wanted to use that capability to clean out Kraken-infected systems. Their boss, David Endler, the director of TippingPoint's DVLabs, disagreed.

"From our point of view, if someone doesn't do something about bots, they'll just continue on and on," Pierce said. "If you have the opportunity to do something, take it."

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

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?