The history of malware,Trojans and worms (part 3)

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Two weeks ago we explored lesser known malware, Trojans and worms, after 1985. This time around, we look at more recent threats, starting with zombies…

2003 Zombie, Phishing
The Sobig worm gave control of the PC to hackers, so that it became a “zombie,” which could be used to send spam. The Mimail worm posed as an email from Paypal, asking users to confirm credit card information.

2004 IRC bots
Malicious IRC (Internet Relay Chat) bots were developed. Trojans could place the bot on a computer, where it would connect to an IRC channel without the user’s knowledge and give control of the computer to hackers.

2005 Rootkits
Sony’s DRM copy protection system, included on music CDs, installed a “rootkit” on users’ PCs, hiding files so that they could not be duplicated. Hackers wrote Trojans to exploit this security weakness and installed a hidden “back door.”

2006 Share price scams
Spam mail hyping shares in small companies (“pump-and-dump” spam) became common.

2006 Ransomware
The Zippo and Archiveus Trojan horse programs, which encrypted users’ files and demanded payment in exchange for the password, were early examples of ransomware.

2006 First advanced persistent threat (APT) identified 
First coined by the U.S. Air Force in 2006 and functionally defined by Alexandria, Virginia security firm Mandiant in 2008 as a group of sophisticated, determined and coordinated attackers. APTs are equipped with both the capability and the intent to persistently and effectively target a specific entity. Recognized attack vectors include infected media, supply chain compromise and social engineering.

2008 Fake antivirus software
Scaremongering tactics encourage people to hand over credit card details for fake antivirus products like AntiVirus 2008.

2008 First iPhone malware
The US Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) issues a warning that a fraudulent iPhone upgrade, “iPhone firmware 1.1.3 prep,” is making its way around the Internet and users should not be fooled into installing it. When a user installs the Trojan, other application components are altered. If the Trojan is uninstalled, the affected applications may also be removed.

2009 Conficker hits the headlines
Conficker, a worm that initially infects via unpatched machines, creates a media storm across the world.

2009 Polymorphic viruses rise again
Complex viruses return with a vengeance, including Scribble, a virus which mutates its appearance on each infection and used multiple vectors of attack.

2009 First Android malware
Android FakePlayerAndroid/FakePlayer.A is a Trojan that sends SMS messages to premium rate phone numbers. The Trojan penetrates Android-based smartphones disguised as an ordinary application. Users are prompted to install a small file of around 13 KB that has the standard Android extension .APK. But once the “app” is installed on the device, the Trojan bundled with it begins texting premium rate phone numbers (those that charge). The criminals are the ones operating these numbers, so they end up collecting charges to the victims’ accounts.

2010 Stuxnet
Discovered in June 2010 the Stuxnet worm initially spreads indiscriminately, but is later found to contain a highly specialized malware payload that is designed to target only Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems configured to control and monitor specific industrial processes. Stuxnet’s most prominent target is widely believed to be uranium enrichment infrastructure in Iran.

2012 First drive-by Android malware
The first Android drive-by malware is discovered, a Trojan called NotCompatible that poses as a system update but acts as a proxy redirect. The site checks the victim’s browser’s user-agent string to confirm that it is an Android visiting, then automatically installs the Trojan. A device infected with NotCompatible could potentially be used to gain access to normally protected information or systems, such as those maintained by enterprise or government.

2013 Ransomware is back
Ransomware emerges as one of the top malware threats. With some variants using advanced encryption that makes recovering locked files nearly impossible, ransomware replaces fake antivirus as malicious actors’ money-soliciting threat of choice.

Take note that information below is an extract from the Sophos Threatsaurus, compiled by Sophos, a security software and hardware company.

Trojans still dangerous in modern times

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

horse-220321_960_720Trojans are malicious programmes pretending to be legitimate software, but they actually carry out hidden, harmful functions.

It pretends to do one thing, but actually does something different, without your knowledge. Popular examples are video codecs that some sites require to view online videos.

When a Trojan codec is installed, it may also install spyware or other malicious software. Another example is a malicious link that says “Cool Game.” When you download and install the game program, it turns out not to be a game, but a harmful Trojan that compromises your computer or erases the data on your hard drive.

Trojans are often distributed with pirated software applications and keygens that create illegal license codes for downloadable software. (See Backdoor Trojan)

A backdoor Trojan allows someone to take control of a user’s computer without their permission.

It may pose as legitimate software to fool users into running it. Alternatively—as is increasingly common—users may unknowingly allow Trojans onto their computer by following a link in spam email or visiting a malicious webpage.

Once the Trojan runs, it adds itself to the computer’s startup routine. It can then monitor the computer until the user is connected to the Internet. When the computer goes online, the person who sent the Trojan can perform many actions—for example, run programs on the infected computer, access personal files, modify and upload files, track the user’s keystrokes, or send out spam email.

Well-known backdoor Trojans include Netbus, OptixPro, Subseven, BackOrifice and, more recently, Zbot or ZeuS.

To avoid backdoor Trojans, you should keep your computers up to date with the latest patches (to close down vulnerabilities in the operating system), and run anti-spam and antivirus software. 

Take note that information below is an extract from the Sophos Threatsaurus, compiled by Sophos, a security software and hardware company.

History of malware, Trojans and worms (Part 2)

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Last time we explored the more unknown viruses, Trojans and worms, up to 1985. Now we start off in 1986, where most histories do, with the first PC virus.

1986 The first virus for PCs
The first virus for IBM PCs, Brain, was allegedly written by two brothers in Pakistan, when they noticed that people were copying their software. The virus put a copy of itself and a copyright message on any floppy disk copies their customers made.

1987 The Christmas tree worm
This was an email Christmas card that included program code. If the user ran it, it drew a Christmas tree as promised, but also forwarded itself to everyone in the user’s address book. The traffic paralyzed the IBM worldwide network.

1988 The Internet Worm
Robert Morris, a 23-year-old student, released a worm on the US DARPA Internet. It spread to thousands of computers and, due to an error, kept re-infecting computers many times, causing them to crash.

1989 Trojan demands ransom
The AIDS Trojan horse came on a floppy disk that offered information about AIDS and HIV. The Trojan encrypted the computer’s hard disk and demanded payment in exchange for the password.

1991 The first polymorphic virus
Tequila was the first widespread polymorphic virus. Polymorphic viruses make detection difficult for virus scanners by changing their appearance with each new infection.

1992 The Michelangelo panic
The Michelangelo virus was designed to erase computer hard disks each year on March 6 (Michelangelo’s birthday). After two companies accidentally distributed infected disks and PCs, there was worldwide panic, but few computers were infected.

1994 The first email virus hoax
The first email hoax warned of a malicious virus that would erase an entire hard drive just by opening an email with the subject line “Good Times.”

1995 The first document virus
The first document or “macro” virus, Concept, appeared. It spread by exploiting the macros in Microsoft Word.

1998 The first virus to affect hardware
CIH or Chernobyl became the first virus to paralyze computer hardware. The virus attacked the BIOS, which is needed to boot up the computer.

1999 Email viruses
Melissa, a virus that forwards itself by email, spread worldwide. Bubbleboy, the first virus to infect a computer when email is viewed, appeared.

2000 Denial-of-service attacks
“Distributed denial-of-service” attacks by hackers put Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon and other high profile websites offline for several hours. Love Bug became the most successful email virus yet.

2000 Palm virus
The first virus appeared for the Palm operating system, although no users were infected.

2001 Viruses spread via websites or network shares
Malicious programs began to exploit vulnerabilities in software, so that they could spread without user intervention. Nimda infected users who simply browsed a website. Sircam used its own email program to spread, and also spread via network shares.

If this history timeline hasn’t satisfied your curiosity, the recently launched Malware Museum might peak your interest. 

Take note that information below is an extract from the Sophos Threatsaurus, compiled by Sophos, a security software and hardware company.

History of malware, Trojans and worms (Part 1)

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

We’re always warning you against phishing, viruses and other nasty software which might harm your PC and data. For a change, let’s look at the history of these nasties. Where do they come from? How long have they been around for? Are they a recent phenomenon?

It seems not. Viruses have been doing the rounds for more than 50 years.

1949 Self-reproducing “cellular automata”
John von Neumann, the father of cybernetics, published a paper suggesting that a computer program could reproduce itself.

1959 Core Wars
H Douglas McIlroy, Victor Vysottsky, and Robert P Morris of Bell Labs developed a computer game called Core Wars, in which programs called organisms competed for computer processing time.

1960 “Rabbit” programs
Programmers began to write placeholders for mainframe computers. If no jobs were waiting, these programs added a copy of themselves to the end of the queue. They were nicknamed “rabbits” because they multiplied, using up system resources.

1971 The first worm
Bob Thomas, a developer working on ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet, wrote a program called Creeper that passed from computer to computer, displaying a message.

1975 Replicating code
A K Dewdney wrote Pervade as a sub-routine for a game run on computers using the UNIVAC 1100 system. When any user played the game, it silently copied the latest version of itself into every accessible directory, including shared directories, consequently spreading throughout the network.

1978 The Vampire worm
John Shoch and Jon Hupp at Xerox PARC began experimenting with worms designed to perform helpful tasks. The Vampire worm was idle during the day, but at night it assigned tasks to under-used computers.

1981 Apple virus
Joe Dellinger, a student at Texas A&M University, modified the operating system on Apple II diskettes so that it would behave as a virus. As the virus had unintended side-effects, it was never released, but further versions were written and allowed to spread.

1982 Apple virus with side effects
Rich Skrenta, a 15-year-old, wrote Elk Cloner for the Apple II operating system. Elk Cloner ran whenever a computer was started from an infected floppy disk, and would infect any other floppy put into the disk drive. It displayed a message every 50 times the computer was started.

1985 Mail Trojan
The EGABTR Trojan horse was distributed via mailboxes, posing as a program designed to improve graphics display. However, once run, it deleted all files on the hard disk and displayed a message.

Take note that information above is an extract from the Sophos Threatsaurus, compiled by Sophos, a security software and hardware company.

Attack of the trojans, bots & zombies

Friday, August 30th, 2013
Once of the most common questions we are asked by users is: How do these spammers get my e-mail address? Previously we looked at Rumpelstiltskin attacks and this week we will focus on the second of the methods –  by using Trojan Horses, Bots and Zombies. Now, thet may sound like something from a movie, but they do pose quite a serious threat to you as e-mail user.

Let us use a familiar example. You regularly exchange emails with your elderly mother who has a computer. Your mother uses Outlook or Thunderbird and has dozens of emails from you in her inbox. She even added you to her address book. She also has lots of emails from a distant family member – cousin Johan from Australia. You haven’t stayed in touch with Johan that closely over the years, but you definitely know who he is.

Last year, just before the Christmas, Johan downloaded and installed this really pretty Christmas screensaver that showed tranquil tree and candle scenes when he wasn’t using the computer. What he didn’t know was that the screen saver had a sinister hidden payload. While the candles flickered peacefully on his screen, the software went to work combing through his emails and address book, his browser’s cache of past webmail sessions and other files, storing every email address it would find in a separate list.

Then it sent the entire list to a server in Russia, where a criminal combined it with other such submissions to build the ultimate monster spam list that can be sold and resold over and over again.

But as if that wasn’t enough, when the “screensaver” sent the address list to Russia, it received some content in return – messages to be sent to all of Johan’s contacts. Then, unbeknownst to John, his computer started creating hundreds of emails randomly using the harvested email addresses in the To: and From: field along with the content from the Russian server and sent them out using Johan’s Internet connection. One of them used your mother’s email address as sender and yours as recipient.

Now you received some spam from your mother asking you to buy fake watches and you’re ready to speak to her telling her to stop. Well, don’t. Your mother has obviously nothing to do with the whole thing and you’ll never find out that it was actually Johan’s computer.

You just had a look into the really nasty underworld of the Internet where botmasters (the guy in Russia) control botnets (infected computers that all report to the same server) of remote-controlled zombies (Johan’s computer) that were compromised using trojan horses (the screensaver) or similar malware.

And it doesn’t even end there. The botmaster typically doesn’t spam for his own account but hires out his botnet to whoever pays the most. The equally shady factory in China wanting to sell more fake Rolexes can now hire the botmaster to blast their offers all over the internet. The guy in Russia doesn’t even care if you open or click on that email from your mother, he gets paid either way. And when he’s done with the watches, he’ll inform his entire mailing list that they all won the lottery and can pick up the prize if only they pay a small “transfer fee” up front. And after that, he’ll mail a Paypal phish for yet another “client”. And for good measure, he’ll sell his entire email address database, incl. yours, to a friend who is in the same line of “business”.

In other words, once your email address got picked up by a botnet, Pandora’s Box is wide open. The whole scheme is particularly wicked because now you have to depend on others to keep your address safe. Unfortunately, there is little you can do:

  • First of all, do your own share: NEVER open email attachments that you didn’t ask for, even if they appear to come from good friends like Johan. If you’re still curious, ask Johan or your mother first if they really sent it.
  • NEVER download anything where you can’t in­de­pend­ent­ly verify it’s safe. With“independently verify” I mean you can read about it in forums, blogs, news sites, your local “computer geek” etc. Facebook fan pages, even with 1000s of “fans”, do NOT count, they are way too easy to manipulate and are usually full of misinformation!
  • NEVER get fooled by fake “security scans” (they’re quite the opposite!) or“video codec updates” to see that funny kitten clip. If you think you need a new Flash player, type in by hand and update from there. If afterwards the site still says you need an “update” get out of there as fast as you can.
  • Then educate your friends and family about the same. Explain how trojans work. Send them a link to this blog page!
  • You can try having multiple private email addresses. Keep a super-private one, only for family and very few of your closest friends.  Use your university address for everyone you work with and don’t use this for private mail – EVER!  Get a semi-private one for your wider social circle. The latter two do get some spam, although it’s still manageable. GMail has a very good “spam filter”, and blacklisting spammers is very easy!




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