Over 75,000 systems compromised in cyberattack

Kneber botnet used to gather wide range of corporate, personal data, NetWitness says

Security researchers at Herndon, Va.-based NetWitness Corp. have unearthed a massive botnet affecting at least 75,000 computers at 2,500 companies and government agencies worldwide.

The Kneber botnet, named for the username linking the affected machines worldwide, has been used to gather login credentials to online financial systems, social networking sites and e-mail systems for the past 18 months, according to NetWitness.

A 75GB cache of stolen data discovered by NetWitness included 68,000 corporate login credentials, login data for user accounts at Facebook, Yahoo and Hotmail, 2,000 SSL certificate files and a large amount of highly detailed "dossier-level" identity information. In addition, systems compromised by the botnet also give attackers remote access inside the compromised network, the company said.

"Disturbingly, the data was only a one-month snapshot of data from a campaign that has been in operation for more than a year," NetWitness said in a statement announcing the discovery of the botnet late yesterday.

NetWitness did not release the names of the companies compromised in the attacks, which it described as being highly targeted and well coordinated. But a story Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal identified pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., Cardinal Health Inc., Paramount Pictures and Juniper Networks Inc. as some of U.S. firms that had been infiltrated. Systems belonging to 10 government agencies were also penetrated in the attacks.

According to the Journal , the attacks started in late 2008 and appeared to originate in Europe and China. Computers in as many as 196 countries have been affected, with many systems compromised after users clicked on phishing e-mails with links to sites containing malicious code. Most of the compromised systems appeared to be in Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S., the Journal reported, quoting an unnamed source with information on the attacks.

NetWitness, which provides a range of network monitoring and forensics services for companies and government agencies, discovered the botnet in January during a routine engagement with one of its clients. According to the company, the botnet is a variant of the ZeuS botnet, which is known primarily for stealing banking credentials.

More than half of the infected systems in the Kneber botnet also contained the competing Waledac Trojan, probably because those behind the attacks wanted to build some redundancy into their attacks, NetWitness said. "The coexistence of ZeuS and Waledac suggests the goals of resilience and survivability and potential deeper cross-crew collaboration in the criminal underground," the company noted.

NetWitness' discovery comes just weeks after Google disclosed that it and several other high-tech firms had been victims of organized cyberattacks originating from China. Both incidents underscore what analysts are calling the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) faced by a growing number of financial, commercial and government entities .

The term has been used for some time in government and military domains to describe targeted cyberattacks carried out by highly organized state-sponsored groups and organized cybergangs with deep technical skills and computing resources. Such attacks are typically highly targeted, stealthy, customized and persistent. They also often involve intensive surveillance and advanced social engineering.

In many cases, the attacks target highly placed individuals within organizations, who are tricked into visiting malicious sites or downloading malicious software onto their systems.

Join the newsletter!

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

Tags securityKneber botnetNetWitnesscyber security

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

Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

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

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?