In any given week, I read at least a dozen reports and studies, but I seldom write about them because their conclusions either are obvious or appear slanted toward generating demand for specific products and services. Occasionally, though, a report will come along that is so full of useful data — and resonates so loudly with some of my own investigations — that it forces me to reassess my immediate research and reporting priorities.
One report released today that falls squarely into the latter category is Nart Villeneuve‘s superbly researched and detailed analysis (PDF) of “Koobface,” a huge network of hacked computers that are compromised mostly by social engineering scams spread among users of Facebook.com (Koobface is an anagram of “Facebook”). As the report describes, the Koobface infrastructure is a crime machine fed by cyber criminal gangs tied to a variety of moneymaking schemes involving Web browser search hijacking and the installation of rogue anti-virus software.
This report traces the trail of Koobface activity back through payments made to top criminal partners — known as Partnerka (PDF) — a mix of private and semi-public affiliate groups that form to facilitate coordinated malware propagation.
From the report:
“The Koobface operators maintain a server known as the mothership [which] acts as an intermediary between the pay-per-click and rogue security software affiliates and the compromised victims. This server receives intercepted search queries from victims’ computers and relays this information to Koobface’s pay-per-click affiliates. The affiliates then provide advertisements that are sent to the user. When a user attempts to click on the search results, they are sent to one of the provided advertisement links instead of the intended location. In addition, Koobface will receive and display URLs to rogue security software landing pages or will directly push rogue security software binaries to compromised computers. As a result, Koobface operators were able to generate over two million dollars in a one-year period.”
The report lists the nicknames of top Koobface affiliates, showing the earnings for each over the past year and the Web addresses of their associated affiliate programs. This is the kind of intelligence that — if shared broadly — has the potential to massively disrupt large scale criminal operations, because cybercrime researchers can use it to make sense of seemingly disparate pieces of information about criminal actors and groups. Nevertheless, it is rare to see this kind of raw data published, at least while those implicated remain at large.
Part 3 of the report, titled “The Takedown,” indicates that operations to shutter the Koobface infrastructure may already be underway. Earlier this year, McAfee published an analysis I wrote about takedowns that classified them into two groups: “Shuns” — which seek to shame the peers of a malicious network into severing its connections — and “stuns,” which refer to efforts to disconnect the physical and network control infrastructure used by a botnet. According to the report’s authors, a stun against Koobface is in the works.
“Prior to the publication of this report, notifications were delivered to the owners of the infrastructure that Koobface is abusing,” Villeneuve writes. “They include: fraudulent and stolen Facebook and Google accounts, stolen FTP credentials, and dedicated command and control servers. We are working to synchronize notification to the operators of these elements in order to have an impact on the operations of the Koobface botnet.”
Almost certainly more to come soon. Stay tuned.