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Aug 12

‘Booter Shells’ Turn Web Sites into Weapons

Hacked Web sites aren’t just used for hosting malware anymore. Increasingly, they are being retrofitted with tools that let miscreants harness the compromised site’s raw server power for attacks aimed at knocking other sites offline.

It has long been standard practice for Web site hackers to leave behind a Web-based “shell,” a tiny “backdoor” program that lets them add, delete and run files on compromised server. But in a growing number of Web site break-ins, the trespassers also are leaving behind simple tools called “booter shells,” which allow the miscreants to launch future denial-of-service attacks without the need for vast networks of infected zombie computers.’s configuration page

According to Prolexic, an anti-DDoS company I’ve been working with for the past few weeks to ward off attacks on my site, with booter shells DDoS attacks can be launched more readily and can cause more damage, with far fewer machines. “Web servers typically have 1,000+ times the capacity of a workstation, providing hackers with a much higher yield of malicious traffic with the addition of each infected web server,” the company said in a recent advisory.

The proliferation of booter shells has inevitably led to online services that let paying customers leverage these booter shell-backdoored sites. One such service is, also reachable at Anyone can sign up, fund the account with Paypal or one of several other virtual currencies, and start attacking. The minimum purchase via PayPal is $15, which buys you about 5 hours worth of keeping a site down or at least under attack.

If you’d prefer to knock an individual internet user offline as opposed to a Web site, absoBoot includes a handy free tool that lets users discover someone’s IP address. Just select an image of your choice (or use the pre-selected image) and send the target a customized link that is specific to your absoBoot account. The link to the picture is mapped to a domain crafted to look like it takes you to; closer inspection of the link shows that it fact ends in “,” and records the recipients IP address if he or she views the image. Continue reading →

May 11

Something Old is New Again: Mac RATs, CrimePacks, Sunspots & ZeuS Leaks

New and novel malware appears with enough regularity to keep security researchers and reporters on their toes. But, often enough, there are seemingly new perils that  really are just old threats that have been repackaged or stubbornly lingering reports that are suddenly discovered by a broader audience. One of the biggest challenges faced by  the information security community is trying to decide which threats are worth investigating and addressing.  To illustrate this dilemma, I’ve analyzed several security news headlines that readers forwarded  to me this week, and added a bit more information from my own investigations.

I received more than two dozen emails and tweets from readers calling my attention to news that the source code for the version of the ZeuS crimekit has been leaked online for anyone to download. At one point last year, a new copy of the ZeuS Trojan with all the bells and whistles was fetching at least $10,000. In February, I reported that the source code for the same version was being sold on underground forums. Reasonably enough, news of the source leak was alarming to some because it suggests that even the most indigent hackers can now afford to build their own botnets.

A hacker offering to host and install a control server for a ZeuS botnet.

We may see an explosion of sites pushing ZeuS as a consequence of this leak, but it hasn’t happened yet. Roman Hüssy, curator of ZeusTracker, said in an online chat, “I didn’t see any significant increase of new ZeuS command and control networks, and I don’t think this will change things.” I tend to agree. It was already ridiculously easy to start your own ZeuS botnet before the source code was leaked. There are a number of established and relatively inexpensive services in the criminal underground that will sell individual ZeuS binaries to help novice hackers set up and establish ZeuS botnets (some will even sell you the bulletproof hosting and related amenities as part of a package), for a fraction of the price of the full ZeuS kit.

My sense is that the only potential danger from the release of the ZeuS source code  is that more advanced coders could use it to improve their current malware offerings. At the very least, it should encourage malware developers to write more clear and concise user guides. Also, there may be key information about the ZeuS author hidden in the code for people who know enough about programming to extract meaning and patterns from it.

Are RATs Running Rampant?

Last week, the McAfee blog included an interesting post about a cross-platform “remote administration tool” (RAT) called IncognitoRAT that is based on Java and can run on Linux, Mac and Windows systems. The blog post featured some good details on the functionality of this commercial crimeware tool, but I wanted to learn more about how well it worked, what it looks like, and some background on the author.

Those additional details, and much more, were surprisingly easy to find. For starters, this RAT has been around in one form or another since last year. The screen shot below shows an earlier version of IncognitoRAT being used to remotely control a Mac system.

IncognitoRAT used to control a Mac from a Windows machine.

The kit also includes an app that allows customers to control botted systems via jailbroken iPhones.

Incognito ships with an app that lets customers control infected computers from an iPhone

The following video shows this malware in action on a Windows system. This video was re-recorded from IncognitoRAT’s YouTube channel (consequently it’s a little blurry), but if you view it full-screen and watch carefully you’ll see a sequence in the video that shows how the RAT can be used to send e-mail alerts to the attacker. The person making this video is using Gmail; we can see a list of his Gchat contacts on the left; and his IP address at the bottom of the screen.  That IP traces back to a Sympatico broadband customer in Toronto, Canada, which matches the hometown displayed in the YouTube profile where this video was hosted. A Gmail user named “Carlo Saquilayan” is included in the Gchat contacts visible in the video.

Continue reading →