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Storm and the Future of Social Engineering 77

Albert writes "Storm shows several key characteristics, some new and advanced. It uses cunning social engineering techniques — such as tying spam campaigns to a current event or site of interest — as well as a blend of email and the Web to spread. It is highly coordinated, yet decentralized — and with Storm using the latest generation of P2P technology, it cannot be disabled by simply 'cutting off its head.' In addition, Storm is self-propagating — once infected, computers send out massive amounts of Storm spam to keep recruiting new nodes."
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Storm and the Future of Social Engineering

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  • How is this news? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Magada ( 741361 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @08:57AM (#23762599) Journal
    The worm's been around for the better part of a year now and these features are in it from the beginning.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    it cannot be disabled by simply 'cutting off its head.'
    Off with their goolies!
  • by Silver Sloth ( 770927 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:01AM (#23762635)
    This is just a puff piece for IronPort - nothing to see here, move along
    • by nimbius ( 983462 )
      wait...storm uses cunning social engineering? or its administrators use cunning social engineering... yeah, feels like a warm puff of FUD from IronPort.
    • Yeah, I agree with this assessment. It would have been -very helpful- if they provided something like port numbers or other manifestations of infection. I was also looking for some understanding of the distribution of vulnerabilities, in particular any evidence that this mess has gone beyond Windows desktops.

      To me it seems that the primary thing we need to do is figure out how to patch all those vulnerable Windows machines that facilitate this kind of crap.

      • Yep - definitely fluff. I think I got a worm infection by just reading this one. Shall we agree to stop commenting at 70 comments?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:02AM (#23762645)
    Social engineering is often a bit of a self created problem. Look at this (legitimate, yes, I confirmed) email I got today. I reported a very easily reproducible bug, in a internet hosting (for a client) software package. Here is there response:

    Hi Eric

    Please forward us the username and password that your using so we can login and test this problem


    Bruce Renner
    Betta Computer Services Pty Ltd
    Unit 2 / 55 Tradelink Rd, Hillcrest, 4118
    Ph: 3809 2999
    Fx: 3809 3999

    Note: This message may contain privileged and confidential information that is the property of the intended recipient. The information herein is intended only for use of the addressee. If you are not the intended recipient, then you are requested to return e-mail to Betta Computer Services Pty Ltd and destroy any copies made. Copying or disseminating any of this message is prohibited. Any views expressed in this message are those of the individual sender and may not necessarily reflect the views of Betta Computer Services Pty Ltd.
    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )
      I bet you signed a contract with them saying you would never divulge your username and password.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I hope for his sake he never signed a contract with them agreeing the, otherwise unenforceable, clause:

        Copying or disseminating any of this message is prohibited.
        Somehow, I suspect, posting the whole email to Slashdot might just count as disseminating. Actually, come to think of it, I just Copied and disseminated a bit of their email, and do I care?
    • I'm hoping you told them no - what was their response?
    • So Eric... how's the weather in Australia? Mind if I call up your hosting company and let them know that i will be handling all of your correspondence in the future?

      I'm sure your clients won't mind and it looks like Bruce is fairly lax about credentials... surely he will just send me your contact info and let me switch out the email address of record ;-p

      Yes, most social engineering exploits ARE self created problems ;-p

    • Hi Eric Please forward us the username and password that your using so we can login and test this problem
      Never give out your password - to people who use the wrong homophone!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Similar problem here. Time Warner Cable claimed I was late on a bill (true, it turns out) and so they called me and asked me to pay immediately. First, I thought, "Okay, they're not stupid enough to have a policy expecting customers to give out their CC info to someone claiming to be from TW. They just want my verbal authorization to bill a number I already gave them."

      Then it turns out the guy did want my CC number. When I pointed out that I have no way of knowing that this is really TW or a scammer, so
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hobbit ( 5915 )

      Tell me about it.

      Some background to the particular bee in my bonnet: OS X is designed with a certain folder structure repeated in various different places: /System/Library (for Apple), /Library (for systemwide installation), ~/Library (for individual users), /Network/Library (for all machines on a network). These folders form a sort of search path, rather like /usr/local/bin:/usr/bin but for all sorts of things (preferences, fonts, plugins, etc.)

      However, the GUI installation tool only allows for installatio
      • by TrekkieGod ( 627867 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @11:36AM (#23764801) Homepage Journal

        However, the GUI installation tool only allows for installation by default into /Library. It is possible to override this at the command line, but it's not possible to create an installer that gives the user the option of installing into ~/Library, or does so by default.

        I think there are a whole lot of things that Apple does wrong, but in this case, if you're trying to use the installer for something that doesn't need to write system-wide stuff, you're the one doing it wrong. The vast majority of applications don't use installers. You drag the thing to the applications folder, which doesn't ask you for your password (and the 'application' that "looks" like a single file is actually comprised of all the libraries it needs to run). Upon running the application, the application will then write stuff to your ~/Library folder.

        Now, my beef with Apple's installer is that there's no easy way to uninstall anything that was installed with an installer. With the other stuff, I can just drag the application from the Applications folder into the trash, but if it requires an installer, you're essentially left to track down all the files and deleting them manually.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hobbit ( 5915 )

          I also prefer apps that are installed by dragging them into the applications folder, but if they create things in ~/Library, you're left with exactly the same uninstallation problem as you bemoan in Apple's installer. Unless that's just ~/Library/Preferences/com.domainname.AppName, I'd prefer a paper trail, i.e., an installer receipt.

          Anyway, you or I may not create application installers, but as long as some people do, Apple is culpable in training users to type their password freely.
      • What the hell else would you suggest? Allow software to install itself globally WITHOUT admin privileges? Make it so that software by default only works for the user who installed it?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hobbit ( 5915 )

          What the hell else would you suggest? Allow software to install itself globally WITHOUT admin privileges?

          Make it so that software by default only works for the user who installed it?
          Yes. NB "By default" does not mean "force it on the user"; It's just an extra page in the installer wizard to say "Do you want to install this for the current user or for all users?"

    • Got through to a tech chicky on the phone number. She didn't even know what Slashdot was. What on earth is the world coming to? (sobs)
      • Your all just to simple for words, here is my number to discuses this further but your probably only brave enough to post crap on forums... 0413 839 970
  • by Atheose ( 932144 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:04AM (#23762665)
    Paging Michael Crichton? []
  • ZOMG BOTZ (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spacefiddle ( 620205 ) <> on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:05AM (#23762673) Homepage Journal
    hai guise theirs still a thing called 'storm' and itz bad

    the blurb doesn't even SAY anything beyond that, and the 'article' is a skinny summary that has a cute lil stupid graph in the middle... and a solid bracing of two columns of ads on either side.

    Does any article with the word "storm" in it get published...?
    • Re:ZOMG BOTZ (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Magada ( 741361 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:13AM (#23762747) Journal
      Speaking as someone who's in the business... pretty much, yes. Also, IronPort is on a charm offensive because of the takeover - trying to convince everyone that they won't be less nimble now that they're chained to the big ol' dinosaur in the corner.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        trying to convince everyone that they won't be less nimble now that they're chained to the big ol' dinosaur in the corner.
        All I gotta say is look what that big ol' dinosaur did to Linksys.
    • Nope, not everything gets modded up, just most things..

      Of course newspapers leave headlines that leave me as a mass murder like --Storm kills 300 in the Philippines -- --Storm leaves orphans homeless-- --Storm invades your privacy-- --Storm discontinued by geo-- --Storm discontinued by Coca Cola--


    • O RLY?
  • by thomasdz ( 178114 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:08AM (#23762699)

    Since the article mentions "and with Storm using the latest generation of P2P technology"
    I think the only reasonable solution to this is to for all of us to call our ISPs and demand that this "P2P" thing be either throttled back or somehow forced to stop, perhaps by sending out fake RST packets whenever the ISP sees "P2P traffic. Yeah, let's all do that so we can nip this Storm bot in the bud.
  • by TechForensics ( 944258 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:22AM (#23762843) Homepage Journal
    How can we teach everyone to pay attention when their computers slow down, the disks thrash, lights on the cable modem go nuts, and strange bounces appear in their email? This isn't rocket science. We need to get the word out!
    • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:29AM (#23762915) Homepage
      Because people don't care.

      If you're car display lights up and flashes, people take notice but still I've seen people ignore the warning lights and just drive (sorry, but women are actually the worst culprits).

      A computer is a black box to people and a few flashing lights/slowness mean nothing to them. It could be that their P2P app has just kicked in or their printer is printing or a million other things... people can't diagnose it, therefore they don't care about it.

      You will *not* educate the masses, no matter what damage you do to their computers - these people are buying new computers every year because "the old one got slow", where in reality it was running at the same speed but just bogged down with viruses.

      The way to do it is not to trust them to be able to spot it, or need to. That is, make a computer that takes care of such things. This is what privilege seperation do when they are implemented properly, but even on the strictest controlled networks, you'll find something users can do that wasn't designed for or intended. However, the fix is in the design and execution, not the dumb idiot who just wants to send an email to his family.
    • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @10:49AM (#23764025) Journal
      My disks often show activity when the machine is "just sitting there". My DSL modem lights often blink for no apparent reason. When I do a top, I see several dozen processes, any one of which could be logging data, doing garbage collection, looking for updates, or doing any number of innocuous things. Just because a computer is active when you don't think it should be, doesn't necessarily mean that it's infected with anything.
    • How can we teach everyone to pay attention when .. lights on the cable modem go nuts .. ?
      Send them a bigger network usage bill the following month.
    • by deanoaz ( 843940 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @12:36PM (#23765847)
      How are they supposed to know those symptoms aren't just Vista doing some kind of indexing or whatever on their computer?
    • A little bleach in the gene pool would go a long way
  • Opinions: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:25AM (#23762871) Homepage
    Not surprised.
    Took it's time.
    Why isn't every virus doing this?

    Seriously, this has always been possible, always been a threat. It's not surprising. It's "different" but you can't even call some parts of that "new"... other people thought of these things years ago.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the next step is an "evolution"... instead of a simple worm, we get a virus that changes itself programmatically to avoid detection, uses information from previous successful hacks to propogate itself (e.g. "People click on me if I claim to be from this website... I'll send out some more of me claiming to be from that and similar websites"), or authors piggy-back increasingly more complex viruses on the back of Storm, so that eventually there is just a "swarm", instead of a "Storm".

    And then the "virus swarm" will be seen as a single entity and you'll be defending your computers against it and reading adverts for "Anti-SWARM" software, etc.
  • In addition, Storm is self-propagating -- once infected, computers send out massive amounts of Storm spam to keep recruiting new nodes

    No way ! It can do this ? That's unbelievable

    For those who need a little reminder about what is a worm (such as the guy who wrote the article), here is the definition of a worm by Wikipedia :

    A computer worm is a self-replicating computer program. It uses a network to send copies of itself to other nodes (computer terminals on the network) and it may do so without any user intervention.

  • Why. . ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @09:40AM (#23763011)
    Okay. So something has been confusing me for ages now. --The program propagates itself; spreads copies of itself all over the place. So why doesn't somebody look at the code in one of those copies to determine everything anybody would ever want to know about it thus enabling people to pretty much ignore it?

    I know that this is what anti-virus companies do, but the way people talk about Storm and similar bot nets, makes it sound as though there is some elusive quality which allows it to do all these unexpected things. What gives? It's just a program. What's the big deal? Or IS there a big deal? I've never been infected.


    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Cormacus ( 976625 )
      Thats exactly what someone who had been infected would say.
      • Thats exactly what someone who had been infected would say.

        No, I believe you're thinking of the phrase, "It's all so much simpler now. After you get the procedure you'll understand as well."


    • Re:Why. . ? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Rick Bentley ( 988595 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @10:48AM (#23764009) Homepage
      The basic idea, it seems to be, is that someone is still controlling these computers and can use them at will in DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service ) attacks ... and maybe it can even go on the offensive automatically.

      Wikipedia ( has a nice write-up on Storm, the "Methodology" Section is especially informative:

      The Storm botnet was observed to be defending itself, and attacking computer systems that scanned for Storm virus-infected computer systems online.[29] The botnet will defend itself with DDoS counter-attacks, to maintain its own internal integrity At certain points in time, the Storm worm used to spread the botnet has attempted to release hundreds or thousands of versions of itself onto the Internet, in a concentrated attempt to overwhelm the defenses of anti-virus and malware security firms.[30] According to Joshua Corman, an IBM security researcher, "This is the first time that I can remember ever seeing researchers who were actually afraid of investigating an exploit."[31] Researchers are still unsure if the botnet's defenses and counter attacks are a form of automation, or manually executed by the system's operators.[31] "If you try to attach a debugger, or query sites it's reporting into, it knows and punishes you instantaneously. [Over at] SecureWorks, a chunk of it DDoS-ed [directed a distributed-denial-of-service attack] a researcher off the network. Every time I hear of an investigator trying to investigate, they're automatically punished. It knows it's being investigated, and it punishes them. It fights back," Corman said.[32]

      Yes, it's not hard to defend against getting infected, but every year there are a bazillion new computer users who want to "punch the clown to win a free i-pod", or whatever, and they get infected by the dumbest stuff. Then their computer can be used to attack others.

      Anyway, most any /. reader can keep from getting infected by Storm, it's the 99.99...% of the rest of the computer owners that literally become part of the problem.
    • Re:Why. . ? (Score:4, Informative)

      by kvezach ( 1199717 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @12:00PM (#23765205)
      They do, and write countermeasure papers like this one []. That paper is about how to break the communications network (basically flooding it) - the next step for the Storm authors is to switch to another peer-to-peer network that's more resilient, and then the investigators find another bug, and the arms race continues.

      Ultimately, the only way to shortcut the race is to keep the code from being executed, on the assumption that people aren't going to want to have the bot on their computers. Unfortunately, this is going to require heavy retooling of security systems (to lower the chance that bugs can be exploitable, and to let users know exactly what the program they're trying to execute/install wants to do).

      To get back from that digression, the big deal is that it uses peer-to-peer and that so many people have fallen for it. AV companies (and other reverse engineers) do look at the code, but they can only react, hence the arms race.
    • by Z34107 ( 925136 )

      The other problem from my limited understanding is that it is incredibly resistant to doing just that - "look at the code."

      The executable is encrypted, making disassembly difficult. People have purposefully infected isolated sandbox machines to try to attach a debugger to the decrypted, running process - and the bot kills the debugger. Researchers have found their machines (and the entire network they're connected to!) DDoS'd and effectively shut down as Storm found out and got angry.

      Avoiding infectio

  • simple fix (Score:1, Insightful)

    by drew_92123 ( 213321 )
    I'm tellin ya, find the guys who write a couple of these things, or that run a bot net or even a small spamming operation, charge them with crimes against humanity or some such garbage, and kill them very slowly on live TV... Then take away everything their families own... money, property, put them out on the street. SPAM would stop soon after the second or third execution and the world will be better for it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by deanoaz ( 843940 )
      But there isn't any big money behind stopping spam. If you start executing people for computer crimes it will be the pirates getting the chair at the behest of the RIAA, not spammers.
    • Also, hefty fines against the stupid people that buy V1@gRa and c1aLi$ online. Somewhere around "everything-they-own-plus-one-dollar". Or just kill them also. It's not like the world will miss them.
  • by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @12:30PM (#23765709) Journal
    and with Storm using the latest generation of P2P technology, it cannot be disabled by simply 'cutting off its head.'

    I suspect a few public decapitations of the people running Storm would put a pretty quick stop to it. Just gotta pick the right targets, see.

  • According to this article [] it is possible to "frame" IP addresses using the bittorrent protocol, and convince the RIAA that a non-infringing IP address (for example, a networked printer) is hosting their precious music.

    If worm-compromised hosts can be automatically identified (say, the originator of every piece of spam that I get), why not frame them, and then RIAA will send take-down notices to their ISPs? Either this forces the RIAA to work a little harder before harrassing people, or a bunch of worm

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