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Conficker cashes in, installs spam bots and scareware

Year's biggest threat finally reveals moneymaking model

April 9, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The makers of Conficker, the worm that has infected millions of PCs, have begun to do what all botnet owners do -- make money -- security researchers said today as they started analyzing the malware's newest variant.

Conficker.e, as the update has been dubbed, began downloading and installing on previously infected PCs at midnight London time, said Kevin Hogan, director of security response operations at Symantec Corp.

In several ways, the new Conficker is a lot like the original version of the worm, which appeared in November 2008. "At first blush, it looked like the Conficker.a variant," said Hogan. "But this is actually new in that it rejumbled existing code from previous versions."

It also downloads several new malicious files to the infected system that reveal how Conficker's handlers intend to profit from their collection of compromised computers, Hogan said.

According to Symantec, Conficker.e is downloading and installing Waledac, a noted bot that has been on the upswing for several months. Waledac is perhaps best known as the successor to the infamous Storm bot of 2008; researchers unanimously believe that its makers are from the same group that ran Storm last year. Like Storm, Waledac bots -- the PCs that are infected with the Trojan horse -- are rented out to spammers.

"Two things come to mind," said Hogan, referring to the Conficker.e-Waledac connection. "The people responsible for Waledac could be from the same group as Conficker, or they may be directly associated with the Conficker people. Or the people behind Conficker have sold the use of their botnet to Waledac, who in turn are in the spam business."

This is the first time that Conficker has been tied to spammers. "Now we're seeing an association with spam," said Hogan, "but the question still remains: Are these two groups directly related?"

A researcher at Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab found a different moneymaking move by the new Conficker. According to Kaspersky's Alex Gostev, Conficker.e is downloading and installing fake security software. Often called "scareware" for its habit of trying to spook users with bogus infection warnings -- then dunning them with endless pop-ups until they fork over up to $50 to buy the useless program -- such rogue antivirus software has become a huge business, large enough for even Microsoft to worry about.



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