Worm Exploits MS08-067 Bug
DOWNAD, also known as the Conficker worm, was first seen in the wild taking advantage of the MS08-067 vulnerability. True to form, it propagated via shared networks. Like its predecesors—the Sasser and Nimda worms—it also raised security concerns with regard to a spike in port 445 activity.
A few days after its appearance, reports suggested that the threat had spread. More than 500,000 unique hosts spread across networks in the United States, China, India, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America fell prey to the threat. Several residential broadband service providers also reported having an even larger number of infected customers.
New Year, New Variant
This variant first sent exploit packets for a Microsoft Server Service Vulnerability to every machine on the network and to several randomly selected targets over the Internet. It then dropped a copy of itself in the Recycler folder of all available removable and network drives and created an obfuscated autorun.inf file on these drives so it can execute every time a user browsed a network folder or removable drive without actually clicking on the file. It then enumerated the available servers on the network and, using this information, gathered a list of user accounts on the machines.
Afterward, it ran a dictionary attack against these accounts using a predefined password list. If it succeeds, it dropped a copy of itself on the systems and used a scheduled task to execute the worm.
Improved Domain Generation Functionality
In March, the most hyped DOWNAD variant reared its ugly head. WORM_DOWNAD.KK’s additional features included an increased number of generated domains, from the 250 generated by earlier variants to 50,000.
While it only attempted to connect to around 500 randomly selected domains at a time, this modification was seen as an effort to increase the botnet’s chances of survival until it was set to unleash its enigmatic payload on April Fools’ Day.
DOWNAD Uses P2P
April 1 came and went. No signs of the DOWNAD worm were seen until a week after. Threat researchers keeping an eye out for new DOWNAD-related activities saw a new file—the newest worm variant—in infected systems’ Windows Temp folder created exactly on April 7, 2009 at 07:41:21. What was odd about this was that no HTTP download took place around that time though a huge encrypted TCP response from a known DOWNAD/Conficker peer-to-peer (P2P) IP node, which was hosted somewhere in Korea, was found.
This variant was set to stop running on May 3, 2009; ran using random file and service names; deleted dropped components afterward; propagated via an exploit to external IP addresses if the system had Internet access or to local IP addresses if it did not; opened port 5114 and served as an HTTP server by broadcasting via an SSDP request; and connected to sites such as MySpace, MSN, and eBay.
In a span of just four months (November 2008–February 2009), the DOWNAD infection count peaked, from initially infecting around 500,000 PCs to 9 million PCs. It certainly wreaked a lot of damage, taking advantage of exploits to spread malicious code as a social engineering ploy. DOWNAD was used to create a botnet that can be utilized for the usual range of threats that lurk in the Web—spamming, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and spreading FAKEAV. According to Trend Micro Advanced Threats Researcher Ryan Flores, “DOWNAD/Conficker opened the IT security industry’s eyes by exposing several truths and areas that IT professionals commonly overlook.”
Updated Patches Still Key
It has been a year since DOWNAD/Conficker first infected PCs. If we have learned anything from this experience, it should be that most worms spread by exploiting network-based vulnerabilities. That is why it is very important to secure connected devices, and keep them up-to-date with the latest patches.
Of course, this would be hard to do if you use pirated software. So using legitimate software copies is also key to keeping data and even your identity secure, especially in today’s worsening threat landscape.