Microsoft, Symantec, VeriSign join forces to fight Downadup worm

Microsoft offers $250,000 for info on hackers; ICANN involved in effort, too

Nearly 20 technology companies and organizations are combining forces to disrupt the command-and-control infrastructure of the rapidly spreading Downadup worm, prompted by infection rates of nearly 2.2 million machines each day.

Firms, including Microsoft Corp., Symantec Corp. and VeriSign Inc., have joined ICANN, the nonprofit group that manages the Internet Domain Name System, to preemptively register and remove from circulation the Internet addresses that the worm's controllers use to maintain their hold on infected machines, said Gerry Egan, director of product management in Symantec's security response group.

Separately, Microsoft has offered a $250,000 reward for information that results in the arrest and conviction of the hackers who created and launched the worm.

Although Microsoft launched its hacker bounty program in 2003, it has rarely used the $5 million it set aside at the time. The last time it offered a reward was in 2004, when it posted a quarter-million-dollar bounty on the maker of the Sasser worm. A German teenager was arrested in May 2004 and charged with creating Sasser. The following year, Microsoft paid out the reward to two people who helped identify the hacker.

Perhaps not coincidentally, security researchers -- including those at Symantec -- have recently drawn comparisons between Sasser and Downadup, which also goes by the name "Conficker." Much of those comparisons relate to the size of the current attack, as well as the fact that the worm targets a wide-scale Microsoft vulnerability.

To stymie Downadup, the coalition plans to either pre-register or remove from circulation as many of the 250 different domains that the worm uses as possible, said Egan. "We're working with the domain registrars to take them out," he said. "It's a combination of registering the domains and removing them from circulation."

Once it has infected a PC, Downadup generates a list of 250 possible domains -- the list changes daily -- selects one, then uses that URL to reach a malicious server from which it downloads additional malware to install on the hijacked computer. Symantec and other security vendors, including Helsinki, Finland-based F-Secure Corp., have been preemptively registering some of those domains for weeks. They have then monitored the domains to get an idea of the worm's back-end processes and to track its spread.

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