Posts Tagged: Bredolab


15
Jan 13

Spam Volumes: Past & Present, Global & Local

Last week, National Public Radio aired a story on my Pharma Wars series, which chronicles an epic battle between men who ran two competing cybercrime empires that used spam to pimp online pharmacy sites. As I was working with the NPR reporter on the story, I was struck by how much spam has decreased over the past couple of years.

Below is a graphic that’s based on spam data collected by Symantec‘s MessageLabs. It shows that global spam volumes fell and spiked fairly regularly, from highs of 6 trillion messages sent per month to just below 1 trillion. I produced this graph based on Symantec’s raw spam data.

gsv07-12

Some of the points on the graph where spam volumes fall precipitously roughly coincide with major disruptive events, such as the disconnection of rogue ISPs McColo Corp. and 3FN, as well as targeted takedowns against major spam botnets, including Bredolab, Rustock and Grum. Obviously, this graph shows a correlation to those events, not a direct causation; there may well have been other events other than those mentioned that caused decreases in junk email volumes worldwide. Nevertheless, it is clear that the closure of the SpamIt affiliate program in the fall of 2010 marked the beginning of a steep and steady decline of spam volumes that persists to this day.

Of course, spam volumes are relative, depending on where you live and which providers you rely on for email and connections to the larger Internet. As I was putting together these charts, I also asked for spam data from Cloudmark, a San Francisco-based email security firm. Their data (shown in the graphs below) paint a very interesting picture of the difference in percentage of email that is spam coming from users of the top three email services: The spam percentages were Yahoo! (22%), Microsoft (11%) and  Google (6%).

WebMailSpamCloudmark

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21
Mar 12

Bredolab Botmaster ‘Birdie’ Still at Large

Employee and financial records leaked from some of the world’s largest sponsors of spam provide new clues about the identity of a previously unknown Russian man believed to have been closely tied to the development and maintenance of “Bredolab,” a massive collection of hacked machines that was disassembled in an international law enforcement sweep in late 2010.

Bredolab grew swiftly after Birdie introduced his load system.

In October 2010, Armenian authorities arrested and imprisoned 27-year-old Georg Avanesov on suspicion of running Bredolab, a botnet that infected an estimated 3 million PCs per month through virus-laden e-mails and booby-trapped Web sites. The arrest resulted from a joint investigation between Armenian police and cyber sleuths in the Netherlands, whose ISPs were home to at least 143 servers that were used to direct the botnet’s activities.

Dutch and Armenian investigators have long suspected that Avanesov worked closely with an infamous Russian botmaster who used the nickname “Birdie,” but so far they have been unable to learn the Russian’s real identity or whereabouts.

“He was a close associate of Gregory A.,” Pim Takkenberg, team leader of the National High Tech Crime Unit in the Netherlands, said of the hacker known as Birdie. “Actually, we were never able to fully identify him.”

According to records leaked from SpamIt — a pharmacy affiliate program that was the victim of a data breach in 2010 — Birdie was an affiliate with SpamIt along with Avanesov. Neither affiliates earned much from SpamIt directly; they both made far more money selling other spammers access to Bredolab.

Birdie was also the nickname of a top member of Spamdot.biz, a now-defunct forum that once counted among its members nearly all of the big names in Spamit, as well as a dozen competing spam affiliate programs. Birdie’s core offering on Spamdot was the “Birdie Load System,” which allowed other members to buy “installs” of their own malware by loading it onto machines already infected with Bredolab.

So successful and popular was the Birdie Load System among Spamdot members that Birdie eventually had to create a customer queuing system, scheduling new loads days or weeks in advance for high volume customers. According to his own postings on Spamdot, Birdie routinely processed at least 50,000 new loads or installs for customers each day.

“Due to the fact that many of my clients very much hate waiting in line, we’ve begun selling access to weekly slots,” Birdie wrote. “If a ‘slot’ is purchased, independently from other customers, the person who purchased the slot is guaranteed service.”

Using Birdie’s Bredolab load system, spammers could easily re-seed their own spam botnets, and could rely upon load systems like this one to rebuild botnets that had been badly damaged from targeted takedowns by anti-spam activists and/or law enforcement. Bredolab also was commonly used to deploy new installations of the ZeuS Trojan, which has been used in countless online banking heists against consumers and businesses.

Below is a translated version of Birdie’s Dec. 2008 post to Spamdot describing the rules, prices and capabilities of his malware loading machine (click the image below twice for an enlarged version of the Spamdot discussion thread from which this translation was taken). Continue reading →


1
Jul 11

Where Have All the Spambots Gone?

First, the good news: The past year has witnessed the decimation of spam volume, the arrests of several key hackers, and the high-profile takedowns of some of the Web’s most notorious botnets. The bad news? The crooks behind these huge crime machines are fighting back — devising new approaches designed to resist even the most energetic takedown efforts.

The volume of junk email flooding inboxes each day is way down from a year ago, as much as a 90 percent decrease according to some estimates. Symantec reports that spam volumes hit their high mark in July 2010, when junk email purveyors were blasting in excess of 225 billion spam messages per day. The company says daily spam volumes now hover between 25 and 50 billion missives daily. Anti-spam experts from Cisco Systems are tracking a similarly precipitous decline, from 300 billion per day in June 2010 to just 40 billion in June 2011.

Spam messages per day, July 2010 - July 2011. Image courtesy Symantec.

There may be many reasons for the drop in junk email volumes, but it would be a mistake to downplay efforts by law enforcement officials and security experts.  In the past year, authorities have taken down some of the biggest botnets and apprehended several top botmasters. Most recently, the FBI worked with dozens of ISPs to kneecap the Coreflood botnet. In April, Microsoft launched an apparently successful sneak attack against Rustock, a botnet once responsible for sending 40 percent of all junk email.

Daily spam volume July 2010 - July 2011. Image courtesy Spamcop.net

In December 2010, the FBI arrested a Russian accused of running the Mega-D botnet. In October 2010, authorities in the Netherlands arrested the alleged creator of the Bredolab botnet and dismantled huge chunks of the botnet. A month earlier, Spamit.com, one of the biggest spammer affiliate programs ever created, was shut down when its creator, Igor Gusev, was named the world’s number one spammer and went into hiding. In August 2010, researchers clobbered the Pushdo botnet, causing spam from that botnet to slow to a trickle.

But botmasters are not idly standing by while their industry is dismantled. Analysts from Kaspersky Lab this week published research on a new version of the TDSS malware (a.k.a. TDL), a sophisticated malicious code family that includes a powerful rootkit component that compromises PCs below the operating system level, making it extremely challenging to detect and remove. The latest version of TDSS — dubbed TDL-4 has already infected 4.5 million PCs; it uses a custom encryption scheme that makes it difficult for security experts to analyze traffic between hijacked PCs and botnet controllers. TDL-4 control networks also send out instructions to infected PCs using a peer-to-peer network that includes multiple failsafe mechanisms.

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14
Apr 11

U.S. Government Takes Down Coreflood Botnet

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI were granted unprecedented authority this week to seize control over a criminal botnet that enslaved millions of computers and to use that power to disable the malicious software on infected PCs.

Sample network diagram of Coreflood, Source:FBI

Sample network diagram of Coreflood, Source:FBI

The target of the takedown was “Coreflood,” an infamous botnet that emerged almost a decade ago as a high-powered virtual weapon designed to knock targeted Web sites offline. Over the years, the crooks running the botnet began to use it to defraud owners of the victim PCs by stealing bank account information and draining balances.

Coreflood has morphed into a menacing crime machine since its emergence in 2002. As I noted in a 2008 story for The Washington Post, this is the same botnet that was used to steal more than $90,000 from Joe Lopez in 2005, kicking off the first of many high profile lawsuits that would be brought against banks by victims of commercial account takeovers. According to the Justice Department, Coreflood also was implicated in the theft of $241,866 from a defense contractor in Tennessee; $115,771 from a real estate company in Michigan; and $151,201 from an investment firm in North Carolina.

By 2008, Coreflood had infected some 378,000 PCs, including computers at hospitals and government agencies. According to research done by Joe Stewart, senior malware researcher for Dell SecureWorks, the thieves in charge of Coreflood had stolen more than 500 gigabytes of banking credentials and other sensitive data, enough data to fill 500 pickup trucks if printed on paper.

On April 11, 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut filed a civil complaint against 13 unknown (“John Doe”) defendants responsible for running Coreflood, and was granted authority to seize 29 domain names used to control the daily operations of the botnet. The government also was awarded a temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing it to send individual PCs infected with Coreflood a command telling the machines to stop the bot software from running.

The government was able to do this because it also won the right to have the Coreflood control servers redirected to networks run by the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium (ISC). When bots reported to the control servers – as they were programmed to do periodically – the ISC servers would reply with commands telling the bot program to quit.

ISC President Barry Greene said the government was wary of removing the bot software from infected machines.

“They didn’t want to do the uninstall, just exit,” Greene said. “Baby steps. But this was significant for the DOJ to be able to do this. People have been saying we should be able to do this for a long time, and nobody has done what we’re doing until now.”

No U.S. law enforcement authority has ever sought to commandeer a botnet using such an approach. Last year, Dutch authorities took down the Bredolab botnet using a similar method that directed affected users to a Web page warning of the infection. Last month, Microsoft took down the Rustock spam botnet by convincing a court to grant it control over both the botnet’s control domains and the hard drives used by those control servers.

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30
Oct 10

Bredolab Mastermind Was Key Spamit.com Affiliate

The man arrested in Armenia last week for allegedly operating the massive “Bredolab” botnet — a network of some 30 million hacked Microsoft Windows PCs that were rented out to cyber crooks — appears to have generated much of his clientele as an affiliate of Spamit.com, the global spamming operation whose members are blamed for sending a majority of the world’s pharmaceutical spam.

Armenian authorities arrested 27-year-old Georg Avanesov on suspicion of being the curator of Bredolab, a botnet that infected an estimated 3 million PCs per month through virus-laden e-mails and booby-trapped Web sites. The arrest resulted from a joint investigation between Armenian police and cyber sleuths in the Netherlands, whose ISPs were home to at least 143 servers used to direct the botnet’s activities. In tandem with the arrest and the unplugging of those servers, Dutch service providers began redirecting local Internet users to a disinfection and cleanup page if their PCs showed signs of Bredolab infections.

Investigators allege that Avanesov made up to US$139,000 each month renting the botnet to criminals who used it for sending spam and for installing password-stealing malicious software. Avanesov, who is thought to have made millions over a career spanning more than a decade, was arrested after hopping a flight from Moscow to his home in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.

Pim Takkenberg, team leader for the Netherlands Police Agency’s High Tech Crime Unit, said Avanesov frequently used the hacker aliases “padonaque” and “Atata,” and for many years used the e-mail address “i.am@padonaque.info.” The domain padonaque.info has long been associated with a variety of malicious software families, and the malware that once called home to it reflects the varied clientele that investigators say Avanesov attracted over the years.

Atata’s ICQ Avatar

According to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, that e-mail address and Atata nickname were used to register at least two affiliate accounts at spamit.com. With online pharmacy sales generating him less than $2,000 each month over the last several years, Atata wasn’t pulling in anywhere near as much as the top earners in the program, some of whom earned six figures monthly promoting counterfeit pills via spam. But Takkenberg and others say it is likely that Atata used Spamit as a place to sign up new customers who were interesting in renting his Bredolab botnet to promote their pharmacy sites.

“The main thing he did was build this botnet — mainly using a lot of hacked Web sites,” Takkenberg said. “Then he sold parts of that botnet to other clients of his, who could upload their own malware loaders, FTP [password] grabbers, whatever they wanted.”

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