Hosting sites help hackers recruit 'zombies'

Web sites offering free hosting services are increasingly being used by hackers to store and distribute malware, according to Internet security firm Websense. The company said yesterday it had noticed an "alarming" increase in the first two weeks in July in the use of free Web space services for distributing malware such as keyloggers, Trojan horse downloaders and spyware.

Web sites offering free hosting services are increasingly being used by hackers to store and distribute malware, according to Internet security firm Websense.

The company said yesterday it had noticed an "alarming" increase in the first two weeks in July in the use of free Web space services for distributing malware such as keyloggers, Trojan horse downloaders and spyware.

Dan Hubbard, senior director of security and technology research at Websense, said more malware was found on free hosting services during the first two weeks of July than in May and June combined.

According to Hubbard, some Web sites being used by malware distributors are disguised as legitimate, while others are online for such a short period of time they are very difficult to trace.

"These fraudulent, free personal Web sites have an average lifespan of two to four days, making them difficult to trace. Some of the sites may be created with automated shared hacking software... others are built to appear more legitimate. For example, one of the sites included music that accompanied a greeting-card message which runs while your computer is being infected," said Hubbard.

However, using free Web hosting services is only a passing phase, according to James Turner, security analyst at Frost & Sullivan Australia. Turner believes that the real danger is still going to come from existing zombie or compromised computers.

"Yes, there is lots of free Web space out there if you want it, but if you have compromised 10,000 home computers, you effectively have the same thing without having to sign up on a Web site," said Turner. He pointed out that the majority of free Web space providers make it near impossible to automate account the opening of accounts.

"A lot of these companies that give you free Web space make it a little convoluted to sign up. They make you type in a word that has been obscured as an image to stop them from being set up automatically -- so a person has to make these manually," said Turner.

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