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Interview with a Botmaster 291

An anonymous reader writes "The Washington Post is running a fascinating feature profiling a couple of botnet operators who make thousands of dollars each month installing adware on machines they infect. This is by far the most detailed examination of this issue I've seen so far -- and includes an interview with the CEO of 180Solutions, as well as interviews with some of the botmasters' victims. From the story: 'Most days, I just sit at home and chat online while I make money,' 0x80 says. 'I get one check like every 15 days in the mail for a few hundred bucks, and a buncha others I get from banks in Canada every 30 days.' He says his work earns him an average of $6,800 per month, although he's made as much as $10,000. Not bad money for a high school dropout.'"
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Interview with a Botmaster

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  • Disgusting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PunkOfLinux ( 870955 ) <> on Saturday February 18, 2006 @08:40AM (#14748812) Homepage
    This is sick. This is a terrible misuse of the internet. People installing this sort of software on other peoples' computers should be shot on sight - or connection. There needs to be a removal of the incentive for them - such as cutting the money they would receive down to almost nothing.
  • Empty life (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomjen ( 839882 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @08:42AM (#14748816)
    So he sits home and chat all day? that sounds like a pretty empty and dull life to me.

    I would not mind not having to work for the money, but i would properly do some programming or simular nerd activites.

    Just sitting and chatting is okay, but not allday everyday.
  • There is a victim (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Debiant ( 254216 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:03AM (#14748872)
    It's not victimless crime.

    Just think if you're running mon & pop business and your daily earnings depends on PC that is infected.
    Also, how do you explain that XXX icon's are popping up on your desktop to wife who uses same computer or is very religious?

    I can think multiple ways what he does could hurt people in their private life or business.

    Also, doesn't infecting one computer also open door to others too? What's stops from somebody else taking over already installed exploits and take with him/her stuff like passwords etc.?

    On the other hand, some plame does go to MS and major tehcnology players. These kind of problems shouldn't be totally unexpected. Either there should be somekind of requirements akin to drivers license to go to Net or solutions should be such that no highschool dropout could hack himself in when he likes to.

  • Botmaster Dirtbag (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FishandChips ( 695645 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:08AM (#14748888) Journal
    It is a fascinating article, a kind of anti-CEBIT that must be played out in thousands of trailer parks and down-at-heel developments all over the world. No real surprises, though. Organized criminal activities are probably the same everywhere: long periods of boredom punctuated by brief spurts of intense activity, and all supported by lies of the "Naturally I wouldn't sink this low if my victims weren't so dumb they deserved it" kind.

    I'd still like to see the CEO's of the top six IT companies put on a public platform and made to answer some tough questions. Like, with all their personal billions and access to hundreds of billions in corporate funds, what are they actually doing to track down guys like these and nail them? So far as I can see, the answer is "As little as we can get away with". And the Feds seem to be used as a get out: we've handed the matter over to the Feds so there's absoutely nothing we can do, nudge nudge wink wink, wanna buy Symantec Internet Security cheap to you squire?

    Until the IT industry grows up enough to start dealing with some of the consequences it has created, I don't think it deserves anyone's support. And meanwhile Botmaster Dirtbags everywhere will continue to flourish. Just my two cents.
  • botmaster? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Afecks ( 899057 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:08AM (#14748891)
    is that what we are calling script kiddies these days?
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:30AM (#14748950) Journal
    Of two people.

    The first, Bill Gates, when are you going to produce a secure OS that does not get owned in the millions by the first kiddy who tries?

    The second to Joe "Windows == computers" Average, when are you going to treath your computer like you would treath your house or car and lock it properly and not put all you valuables on the seat of your convertable with the top down?

    Botnets exist for two reasons, lousy software and the people that use it. Not very suprising the article totally failed to touch on this issue. I wonder how much MSFT spends in advertising at the wasinghton post.

  • by lbft ( 950835 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:37AM (#14748983) Homepage
    Whilst I don't like scum like the guy interviewed in TFA, if there was no financial incentive the professional botmasters would have to, you know, actually earn a living somehow other than screwing people over.

    It's a cop out for the companies whose software is being installed to say, "Hey! Look, guys, honestly, we don't know anything about it!" They don't really care.

    It's even more of a cop out for the companies whose ads are running on the adware that's being used - "We didn't know it was going to be showing without users' consent!" But they don't care either.

    If companies showed some sort of sense of ethics this wouldn't happen. HAH! There's no room for ethics in business today.
  • Absurd (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ereshiere ( 945922 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:38AM (#14748987)
    So the New York Times [] (don't pay for the article) busts some kid for stripping online, but the Washington Post won't bust this idiot?

    One has little impact on anyone but himself, the other causes headaches for people all over the world.

    Some priorities!

  • by NorbrookC ( 674063 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:42AM (#14749003) Journal

    There are times when I wonder why some people think it's "cool" to pervert technology. Phone Phreaks, crackers, virus writers, and now botnets. I've seen them for almost 25 years, and each generation uses the same lame justifications for their behavior. "It's easy money." "It's free." "People are dumb." "If I didn't do it, someone else would." etc., etc., etc.

    It isn't cool, and it's not a "victimless crime." People who get infected are victims, because they have software they don't want on their computers, risk identity theft, suffer through poor performance with their computers, and end up having to pay someone to help them. Companies and businesses lose, because they have to spend money and time fixing problems that could be spent doing something productive. We all are victims, since each one of those botnets create problems for us by taking useful services off-line through DDOS attacks, or forcing admins to block traffic from various IP's - and we might just be in that batch of blocked IPs. Even the ad company's are getting ripped off.

    I found this quote from the article ironic: "It sucks, too, because the companies will shaft you, and there isn't a lot you can do about it," says Majy, 19, who claims to have had as many as 30,000 computers in his botnet."

    He's complaining about being ripped off by the people he's trying to rip off! Excuse me while I devote a nanosecond to feeling sorry for him. They need to get a clue. Yeah, maybe with a real education and job you won't make 10 grand a month now and then. But, you also don't have to worry about people crashing through your door, and spending a few years getting pwned by the guys at the prison.

  • by dc29A ( 636871 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:50AM (#14749029)
    Botnets exist for two reasons, lousy software and the people that use it.

    I wouldn't blame it to "lousy" software. The Windows NT family OS has a good security architecture. Problem is not software, but the way people use it. Microsoft is to blame here big time because for ages they pretty much left everyone and their dogs use the PC with root privileges AND they have a boatload of useless services turned on by default.

    IMO the botnet plague is entirely a human issue:
    - Microsoft encourages people to use their PCs as administrators.
    - Microsoft doesn't warn users of the dangers of using PCs as administrators.
    - Microsoft lets many powerful services run by default (Remote Registry anyone?).
    - Lazy n00b programmers write code that only works as administrator.
    - Stupid people clicking on "OMG YUR PC IS TOO SLOW!!!222!!~!oneone!" flashing adds, or smiley emoticons! Not to mention they open every possible attachment they receive. Even if it's from strangers.

    I run XP atm, no firewall turned on (well router is), no anti-virus and no anti-spyware. I've been running with this setup on Windowns 2000, XP and 20003 family computers for ages, I never got infected with anything. Windows is not to blame for poor computer security, the geniuses at MS for letting people run as root are.
  • The Articles (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fdiskne1 ( 219834 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:52AM (#14749031)
    These articles are just so wrong on so many levels. First the accuracy. "Adware also known as spyware"? Now I know there are similarities but you can't say they are one in the same. Many other small inaccuracies. Then you have the victims who admit they would rather buy a new computer than fix the one they have. Come on! It's just your OS! Reload it! And they don't want to be bothered with learning how to secure their computer. Then the sysadmin who is notified that he has 10,000 machines on his network infected and he doesn't know what to do about it. And finally are the people involved in the underbelly of the botnet/spyware scene. The guy lets cigarette ashes drop onto his laptop and has to "gently kick away" a dog with matted fur. What a loser. I don't care how much money he makes. I'd much rather make my own modest income which is enough to live in a nice little house. Then the way the people involved treat each other. I swear this article was about all the different ways they screw each other. Then 180 Solutions. These are the ones to actually collect the money from the advertisers. At least they could be honest in what they do. Wait, no they couldn't. If they were honest, they'd be out of business. It was an entertaining and fascinating read. But all I can do is shake my head. Wow.
  • No incentive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrNougat ( 927651 ) <ckratsch@gmail . c om> on Saturday February 18, 2006 @10:14AM (#14749105)
    So the botnet guy is getting his money, and when someone has to call you to clean up, you get paid, too. Where's the real incentive for anyone with technical knowledge to make real advances in protection against these kinds of intrusions?

    Admission: I am also the guy who gets paid to clean up adware, among other things. Adware cleaning is quite the profitable business, and there's little risk to it, since anything that goes wrong can be attributed to the malicious software, which the client is already embarrassed about having.
  • by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @10:37AM (#14749194)
    Yeah because everybody knows that Linux and MacOS never need online security updates.

    Oh, wait. They do. And in fact on Linux/MacOS the user has to manually trigger a software update (at least in most versions) whereas Windows has done it automatically for years. Yet these people just don't apply the updates.

    If I had a dollar for every time I've seen somebodies computer go "Beep! Please click me so I can install updates!" and have them ignore it saying something like "Oh yeah it says that all the time, so annoying, can you make it stop that please?" then I'd be making as much as that guy was.

    Botnets exist for two reasons, lousy software and the people that use it.

    No, they exist because ignorant fuckers like this guy are completely lacking in morals or empathy. Look at him - he's saying he'll get out of the business because he's scared he might get caught, not because him and people like him made screwed over millions of people and are universally hated. Pathetic. I feel sorry for the guys parents and wonder what they did wrong.

  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @11:22AM (#14749383)
    suggest you go read Freakonomics, where they tackle the myth of crack-dealers earning lots and lots of cash.

    And we only have the "botmaster's" word for the thousands per month he supposedly earns. Rule #1: Spammers lie.

    That he agreed to be interviewed shows he enjoys the attention (though he perforce remains anonymous). Who knows how much he really earns? (And does he report this to the IRS -- that's how they got Capone -- no need to write special laws if they're breaking old ones.)

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @12:18PM (#14749644)
    I feel sorry for the guys parents and wonder what they did wrong.
    0x80 himself explains his rationalization:
    "All those people in my botnet, right, if I don't use them, they're just gonna eventually get caught up in someone else's net, so it might as well be mine," 0x80 says.
    I couldn't help but notice, this is precisely the argument google uses to justify censoring their web searches in China: "if we don't do it, we'll just lose the market to somebody who will. So we might as well make some money."
  • Re:Disgusting (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gwiner ( 685297 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @12:28PM (#14749690)
    It's the propensity of churches to try to "save" or convert someone to their viewpoint, with little apparent tolerance for other perspectives that leads many to see some religions as manipulative and exploitative. While I realize outreach is central to the core mission of many religions, I think it's easy to see how that mission could be perceived as overbearing and controlling.
  • by Red_Chaos1 ( 95148 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:01PM (#14750229)
    ...of the people who frequent /., a lot of you sure seem to be ignorant. How many of you actually completed reading the article? You're quick to talk all kinds of smack about this guy, what a douche he is, etc. but it seems nobody has read near the end of the article where he talks of coming to realize that what he's doing can't last forever, and isn't really all that great, and that he is actually looking at making something of himself instead of doing the crap he currently is. While I don't like what he's been doing, I do applaud his self realization, and the fact that on his own he is admitting it's not great, and actually voices aspirations to do better things, to gain a little discipline. The knowledge he has now and uses to do bad could just as easily be used to do good, and be every bit as lucrative and exciting for him.

    Just a little advice folks, as with anything else, be sure to have the whole picture/story before going off half cocked, because it makes you look as dumb as the kid in the article sounds.
  • by Saib0t ( 204692 ) <> on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:25PM (#14750403)
    all the information is the following:
    - 21 years Old
    - Lives in Roland, OK
    - Smokes cigarettes. Article mentions Marlboros but that's not what fills his ashtray (cigarettes with a white butt)
    - blond hair (at least blond looking hairs on his arms)
    - hair that covers his eyebrows
    - lives with his parents in a "brick rambler"
    - Mother is "really Christian"
    - has a dog ("A small dog with matted fur")
    - "accent a slurry of heavy Southern drawl and Midwestern nasality"
    - is skinny ( "wiry frame", "tall and lanky", sez the article )
    - high school dropout
    - was an AOL customer 7 years ago
    Roland has pop ~3000. Easy as hell

    The guy really wants to get caught if he leaves that much information be published...

    Anyone feels like saying him "hello", couldn't take more than 2 days to find him ;-)

  • by C0llegeSTUDent ( 876813 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @05:26PM (#14751413) Journal
    I agree with you to an extent. Hacking, in the general sense of unauthorized access, however, is not hard. NOT getting caught is what is difficult. I imagine that not getting caught is going to become increasingly harder as 180solutions is getting a lot of flack in the media lately. This kid is not very glamorous or 'hardcore' - he is a high school dropout who lives with his parents and stays in his room all day watching his bots.

    On a side note, if these botmasters were clever they wouldn't actually install spyware on their victims PC's per se. They could install a "spyware emulator" that reports back to spyware company X as if a user is seeing their ads, but is really not. Out of sight out of mind - why would a user remove software if he did not know it was there? Thus, the user is happy and the botmaster is happy. The only one not happy would be 180solutions - but who cares about them anyways? :)
  • by typical ( 886006 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @08:20PM (#14752304) Journal
    I never thought that journalists might leave metadata in their images -- I thought that they'd have some sort of automated content management system that would take in a TIFF or whatever and spit out a JPEG of the appropriate size for the current design of the web page.

    I'm now wondering how many other news stories might have very much unintended data leaks through metadata tags in images. Possibly quite a hell of a lot.
  • by csirac ( 574795 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @11:45PM (#14752948)
    The guy is still living with his parents and he buys a new laptop? Hasn't the guy heard of priorities?

    What are you getting at? That he should move out of home? That's your priority, but why do you think it has to be everybody's? We don't know this character or his circumstances. Who says he isn't paying his parents rent/board? What's wrong with that?

    He's also a high school dropout (read: shot himself in the foot in terms of getting a -real- job).

    This is true. But we all make mistakes. What's your point?

    Two minutes? Ever heard the saying 'idle hands are the works of the devil?'

    He spends his time creating new viruses, finding new exploits for himself and his friends, covering his tracks, seeking out new zombie PCs or at least creating the tools to do so. I highly doubt this work is also completed in his daily 2 minute routine.

    No fucking wonder he can't get a decent job.

    So, it's that simple is it? You have all the answers?

    You think if he just buckled up and tried harder at school he'd get something better than a meaningless dead-end job in his home-town (forget about even landing a job that paid the same!)?

    Life isn't that fair. Granted, people of real inspiration can work their way up from nothing with honesty and integrity. They make good books and movies.

    For the rest of these mediocre people living in small towns with few opportunities, the apathy is infectious.
  • by Pete ( 2228 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @11:52PM (#14752968)
    Maybe if someone at the state level got pissy about computer crime. [shrug]

    Well, I think there's a couple of approaches you could take. First, from the story:

    Just a few months ago, FBI agents arrested a 20-year-old from Southern California for installing adware on a botnet of more than 400,000 hacked computers.

    Perhaps try to contact someone at the FBI? Don't they have a computer-crime-specific department yet? If you could track down the top agent that dealt with the above guy, you might at least get a pointer to the right place to call. Second, also from the story:

    0x80 has also found credentials for thousands of e-mail accounts, including dozens at ".mil" and ".gov" (U.S. military and government) addresses.

    Hmm. Access to thousands of government and military email accounts. Hello, Department of Homeland "Security"? Sounds like getting this dude would be about as useful as anything else they've ever done. :-)

  • by Pete ( 2228 ) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @12:20AM (#14753051)
    How many of you actually completed reading the article?

    Er, well, I did. I don't know why anyone who started reading the article wouldn't finish it. It's not long and it's quite well-written and interesting.

    but it seems nobody has read near the end of the article where he talks of coming to realize that what he's doing can't last forever, and isn't really all that great, and that he is actually looking at making something of himself [...]

    Yeah, I read that bit too. And just like most of the other people reading, I went "Yeah, right." If he does try to join the army, he'll keep his botnet income going right up until he leaves for basic training. Talk (about wanting to stop) is cheap. About all this section did is make me realise that he wasn't a complete sociopath, and might have some potential of being a decent guy one day.

    Tell you what, 0x80, if you're reading - a great first step would be to remove all the spyware/adware from the machines you've broken into, and then patch the buggers for the hole you used to get in. Or at the very fucking least change the user's default login background to leave a brief apology message and tell them to get their system wiped and reinstalled (with Windows Update auto-enabled).

    Anything less is just worthless talk.

    The knowledge he has now and uses to do bad could just as easily be used to do good, and be every bit as lucrative and exciting for him.

    ...What "knowledge"? Some minor scripting and (possibly) Windows/C programming experience? I'm sure he knows enough to be useful in a generic PC/networking support job, but he's going to have trouble doing more than that with no real IT work experience, no college degree and (apparently) without even having graduated from highschool.

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.