With global effort, a new type of worm is slowed

Conficker worm provides a new kind of cat-and-mouse game for researchers.

There have been big computer worm outbreaks before, but nothing quite like Conficker.

First spotted in November, the worm had soon infected more computers than any worm in recent years. By some estimates it is now installed on more than 10 million PCs. But ever since its first appearance, it has been strangely quiet. Conficker infects PCs and spreads around networks, but it doesn't do anything else. It could be used to launch a massive cyberattack, crippling virtually any server on the Internet, or it could be leased out to spammers in order to pump out billions upon billions of spam messages. Instead, it sits there, a massive engine of destruction waiting for someone to turn the key.

Until recently, many security researchers simply didn't know what the Conficker network was waiting for. On Thursday, however, an international coalition revealed that they had taken unprecedented steps to keep the worm separate from the command-and-control servers that could control it. The group is comprised of security researchers, technology companies, domain name registrars who have joined forces with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the Internet's Domain Name System.

Researchers had taken apart Conficker's code and discovered that it uses a tricky new technique to phone home for new instructions. Each day, the worm generates a fresh list of about 250 random domain names such as aklkanpbq.info. It then checks those domains for new instructions, verifying their cryptographic signature to ensure that they were created by Conficker's author.

When Conficker's code was first cracked, security experts snatched up some of these randomly generated domains, creating what are known as sinkhole servers to receive data from hacked machines and observe how the worm worked. But as the infection became more widespread, they began registering all of the domains -- close to 2,000 per week -- taking them out of circulation before criminals had a chance to tell their infected computers what to do. If ever the bad guys tried to register one of these command-and-control domains, they would have found that they'd already been taken, by a fictional group calling itself the "Conficker Cabal." Its address? 1 Microsoft Way, Redmond Washington.

This is a new kind of cat-and-mouse game for researchers, but it has been tested a few times over the past few months. In November, for example, another group used the technique to take control of domains used by one of the world's largest botnet networks, known as Srizbi, cutting it off from its command-and-control servers.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags worm

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?