Researchers Take Over Dangerous Botnet
University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers temporarily commandeered an infamous botnet known for stealing financial data and found that the threat it represents is even greater than had been originally assumed.
The Torpig/Sinowal/Anserin mini-botnet targets organizations and users to steal bank account information or other sensitive personal data. It is considered more dangerous than big-name botnets because of its small scale and stealthiness. Torpig uses drive-by download attacks as its initial mode of infection, and upon infection the botnet can unleash crafty phishing attacks that produce bogus but authentic-looking Web pages and forms that trick users into exposing their credentials. The UCSB researchers accumulated approximately 70 GB of data for the 10 days they were in control of Torpig, and in that period the botnet stole banking credentials of 8,310 accounts from more than 400 financial institutions, including PayPal, Capital One, E-Trade, and Chase.
Nearly half of the 1,660 stolen debit and credit card accounts the researchers counted belonged to victims in the United States. "The level of sophistication, the amount of data that it is able to steal, and the fact that it has been active for more than three years is truly remarkable," says UCSB researcher Brett Stone-Gross. The researchers' disclosures provoked debate on whether the information they exposed about Torpig, its workings, and its victims could compromise efforts to eventually undo the botnet. "This [research] does create a road map ... for the [botnet] criminals to fix, and not just for others to exploit," says RSA's Sean Brady.
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