FBI warns of Valentine's Day 'Storm'

Storm Trojan horse uses the event for second year running to build up botnet

The Valentine's Day campaign that the bot-building Storm Trojan horse has been running for weeks is running at such volume that even the FBI issued a warning yesterday.

"With the holiday approaching, be on the lookout for spam e-mails spreading the Storm Worm malicious software," the FBI said in an alert posted to the home page of its Web site yesterday. "The Storm Worm virus has capitalized on various holidays in the last year by sending millions of e-mails advertising an e-card link within the text of the spam e-mail. Valentine's Day has been identified as the next target."

Actually, the FBI was way behind the ball. For several weeks, security vendors have been predicting that Storm would again use tomorrow's big day to dupe users into opening attachments or clicking links.

A month ago, for example, Sophos PLC noted that Storm's spam blasts -- messages with subject heads like "You're the One" and "Falling in Love with You" -- were already accounting for one in every 12 e-mails counted by the company's filters. The messages included an IP-address-only link that led to any of several compromised computers in the Storm botnet, said Sophos senior security analyst Mike Haro. Those PCs tried to infect visiting machines with an up-to-date copy of the Trojan horse, which in turn added them to the malware's army.

This is the second year running that Storm has exploited Valentine's Day. Last year, the botnet Trojan horse had made its first splash in the month before the holiday, and researchers have long expected its author or authors to return in 2008. In mid-January, for instance, Jamz Yaneza, research project manager at Trend Micro Inc., said early versions of 2008's run showed that the Trojan horse's makers had learned from the malware's past.

"This year's version looks like a stripped-down version of last year's," he said in an interview last month about Storm's one-year anniversary. "They've optimized the way [the bot is delivered] over the past months," he said, citing an example of how this year's Valentine's Day campaign would differ from 2007's. "They've learned that there's no need to add an attachment."

That's exactly how things have played out in the days leading to Feb. 14.

Trend Micro senior antivirus researcher David Sancho spelled it out in a post to the company's blog on Monday. "The spammed e-mail messages are just plain text, but contain links that lead to malicious Web sites displaying one of eight cute Valentine images," he said. Sancho's post cycled through the images that Trend Micro captured from the malware-serving sites.

"If you run the executable named 'valentine.exe,' your system will join the Storm botnet to start spamming other Internet users," Sancho concluded. "Not very loving of them."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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