Exactly three months ago, the whole IT sector was waiting with bated breath for April 1. The latest DOWNAD/Conficker variant–WORM_DOWNAD.KK–was poised to strike. We know that on that day, it would attempt to access 500 of 50,000 websites and download new malicious files. This led to fears–somewhat misplaced–that new, possibly damaging payloads could cause severe problems, not just for systems already affected by DOWNAD but the Internet as a whole. Many sectors assumed the worst.
April 1 came and went, and… nothing happened. Several days later, another variant appeared, but without the Internet ending (as some of the worst reporting would have led readers believe) most people believed that DOWNAD, as a major threat, was gone.
While it may no longer be as in the news at it was at its height, DOWNAD didn’t suddenly go away. Recent estimates from the Conficker Working Group place the number of unique IP addresses affected by the top 3 DOWNAD variants at well over 5 million. Even considering the group’s disclaimer of putting the number of actually infected systems at only 25-75% of that number, a minimum of 1.25 million infected systems is nothing to laugh at.
The Trend Micro World Virus Tracking Center (WTC) numbers bear this out as well. Almost 790,000 systems were found to be infected with DOWNAD variants in the first three months of the year. In the three succeeding months, that number was almost 1.9 million. Clearly, DOWNAD did not decide to quietly go away.
In addition, out of the public eye, DOWNAD went off and did something with all those infected systems: it went off and formed its own botnet. This was documented in mid-April by Advanced Threat Researchers Paul Ferguson and Ivan Macalintal. The short version, however, is simpler: DOWNAD was used to create a botnet. These can be used for the usual range of threats: spam, Denial of Service attacks, spreading FAKEAV malware, and so on.
Like it or not, malware threats are part of what users have to deal with day in, day out. Like anything people deal with regularly, people become used to malware threats. What was once noteworthy and unusual becomes dull and ordinary. However, this in fact does not make the threat any less dangerous. If anything, it can be argued that it makes the threat more dangerous, as users are more likely to be caught unaware of a threat that may not be something they’re looking out for.
In a very real way, threats like DOWNAD become part of the background noise that is a part of life on the Internet. While it may be unrealistic to expect individual users to keep in mind all threats, but good computing practices will help immensely. The most important one may be: keep your software up to date. This is particularly true for your operating system–a properly patched system would have been proof against most DOWNAD variants. Trend Micro users would have been protected via the Smart Protection Network, of course, but closing the underlying vulnerability would still have been essential.
The price of using your computer freely in today’s Internet may well be constant and unceasing vigilance.