Downadup worm infects 3.5m PCs

Security company F-Secure has warned of a potential 'big badass botnet', as the Microsoft-flaw-exploiting Downadup worm swiftly spreads
Written by David Meyer, Contributor and  Tom Espiner, Contributor

The 'Downadup' worm is spreading quickly and now infects more than 3.5 million PCs, according to the security company F-Secure.

In a blog post on Wednesday, F-Secure put the total number of infected machines at an estimated 3,521,230 — a rise of more than a million machines over the previous day's tally. The security firm bases its estimates on information it has gleaned by tapping into infected machines.

Downadup, which also goes by the name of Conficker, exploits a vulnerability outlined in MS08-067, a Windows Server service flaw that was patched in October. It executes a dictionary attack in order to try cracking user passwords, in the process locking user accounts out of the Active Directory domain. It emerged a week ago that Downadup can also infect USB sticks, thereby propagating on the client side.

F-Secure's chief research officer, Mikko Hyppönen, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday that the infected PCs had the potential to form "one big badass botnet". Hyppönen pointed out that the Downadup worm works by trying to connect to various web addresses. "If the worm finds an active web server at one of these domains, it will download and run a particular executable — thus giving the malware gang a free hand to do whatever they want with all of the infected machines," he wrote.

"[Downadup] uses a complicated algorithm which changes daily and is based on timestamps from public websites such as Google.com and Baidu.com," Hyppönen wrote. "With this algorithm, the worm generates many possible domain names every day… This makes it impossible and/or impractical for us good guys to shut them all down — most of them are never registered in the first place. However, the bad guys only need to predetermine one possible domain for tomorrow, register it, and set up a website — and they then gain access to all of the infected machines. Pretty clever."

Hyppönen then said F-Secure had determined some domains that would be generated by Downadup, and registered them. It was through this method, which gave the firm access to the infected machines, that F-Secure has been able to determine the approximate number of victims.

"Right now, we're seeing hundreds of thousands of unique IP addresses connecting to the domains we've registered," Hyppönen wrote. "A very large part of that traffic is coming from corporate networks, through firewalls, proxies, and NAT routers. Meaning that one unique IP address that we see could very well be 2,000 infected workstations in real life."

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that "businesses should already have patched this vulnerability when the Microsoft patch came out some weeks ago". He urged those businesses that had not yet patched to do so as soon as possible, adding that companies should check laptops and USBs coming into the company, for example, by using a network access control (NAC) product.

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