Week of FUD; Hackers breach electric grid, Conficker sells out, Obama has a plan

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

They say adversity university and the school of hard knocks makes your stronger, faster and streetsmart.  And if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. Lately, I’ve been killing my readers with lots of deadly data so I bet your security muscles are getting huge!

The security community has bombarded the media with fascinating claims of gloom and doom. (I’m guilty of it, too.) The hype hasn’t entirely met the hyperbole. There have been no major catastrophic issues. The power hasn’t gone out, and data breaches haven’t occurred in the 3-15 million PCs that have been compromised by Conficker.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there are still real problems that need solving. The security community and the media are getting better at discovering these new hacks, reporting on them and taking decisive action to fix them before they get worse.

For good reason, President Obama ordered a cyber-security review earlier this year. And he announced plans to appoint a top cyber-security czar, who will coordinate government efforts to protect the country’s networks. This is a response to years of inaction, culminating in millions and millions of breached records by cyber criminals toying with our critical infrastructures and corporate networks.

The Register points out, “According to the Wall Street Journal – which cites unnamed national security officials – electro-spooks hailing from China, Russia, and ‘other countries’ are trying to navigate and control the power grid as well as other US infrastructure like water and sewage.” That could get messy. Let’s make sure the Cyber Security Czar gives the sewage situation his undivided attention. CNET reportsthat the Pentagon has spent over $100 million on its networks in the past 6 months in response to attacks on the government’s computers. This is part reactionary and part proactive.

Wired reports that Conficker is now a lame spambot, selling fake Internet security software in the form ofscareware. I’m going to shut up about Conficker, for the most part, unless this thing does something that impresses me.

Bob Sullivan points out today in “Why all the cyber-scares?” (as I did earlier this week) that, “Security experts use the term ‘spreading FUD’ – fear, uncertainty, and doubt – to criticize the sales tactics of firms that use hyperbole to scare customers into overpaying for security products. The Conficker incident appears to a be a classic example of FUD.”

I’m all done with this week and I’m going to paint eggs.

For an Easter treat, identity theft speaker Robert Siciliano provides you with a hilarious rare glimpse of someone he loves walking for the first time. (I am human, you know.)

And a big THANK YOU to uni-ball because I cant do what I do without them. I’m excited to work with uni-ball in 2009 in a partnership to help raise awareness about the growing threat of identity theft and provide tips for protecting yourself. Check out uniball-na.com for more information.

Conficker flexes muscles, phones home

Identity Theft Expert Robert Siciliano

The internets number one virus Conficker, called home and sent its next set of updates to its global botnet.

Conficker’s botnet, which includes anywhere from 3 to 15 million PCs, has a peer to peer (P2P) feature that allows each PC on the network to talk to one another. Each PC has the ability to become the command server. This characteristic allows Conficker to fluidly update each PC on the network.

The latest variant shows that Conficker is updating via P2P, as opposed to pinging a website for its updates. This makes Conficker “self reliant.”

botnet is a robot network of zombie computers under the control of a single leader. The concept behind a botnet is strength in numbers. Botnets can attack websites, send spam, and log data, which can lead to data breaches, credit card fraud and identity theft, and ultimately clog a network until it shuts down.

CNET reports that researchers have observed Conficker making its first update, which they believe to be a keystroke logger, a form of spyware designed to log usernames and passwords. This new update also tells the zombies to seek other PCs that have not been patched with Microsoft’s update. The worm also pings websites including MySpace.com, MSN.com, eBay.com, CNN.com and AOL.com in order to determine whether that PC has Internet access.

The Register reports that Conficker is now pinging what’s known as a Waledac domain, which contacts a new server if the current one is blacklisted by ISPs for spamming. This allows the virus to download more updates.

In 2007 and 2008, the Storm Worm was thought to have infected over 50 million PCs. Waledac is using the same technology as the Storm Worm,which means two things. First, this may get ugly fast. And second, whoever is controlling Waledac must be the same criminal hackers that built Storm Worm.

All this means that Conficker is about as dangerous as a virus can be, with the best of the best technologies, both old and new. While the virus has yet to strike, it is definitely gearing up.


Identity theft speaker Robert Siciliano discusses criminals using viruses to hack credit cards.

To protect yourself, be sure you have updated Internet security software, and consider an identity theft protection service.

I’m excited to work with uni-ball in 2009 in a partnership to help raise awareness about the growing threat of identity theft and provide tips for protecting yourself. Check out uniball-na.com for more information

Confickers copycat evil twin

Identity Theft Expert Robert Siciliano

Both Microsoft Certified Professional and Computerworld report on a variation of Conficker known as “Neeris.” Neeris is a 4 year old virus that has resurfaced and is now behaving like a Conficker wannabe. It is believed that the criminal hackers who created Conficker and Neeris are either the same person or are working together, double teaming the computer security community.

Neeris began showing up on March 31st into April 1st which, as we know, was supposed to be the launch date for the next set of Conficker updates.

Conficker and Neeris both include auto-run and remote call features that allow it to slither into external storage, including cameras, USB drives, external hard drives and other memory-based devices. Furthermore, it is feared that the “call home” feature will eventually enable either virus to update their abilities to wreak havoc and compromise data.

What’s troubling is that Microsoft created a critical security update specifically for Conficker, labeled the MS08-067 patch. Now, Microsoft Certified Professional states that Neeris is able to “poke holes in” this patch, indicating that the patch is no match for Neeris.

However, as stated in Computerworld, “Due to the similarities to Conficker, most of the mitigations that were mentioned also apply here. Make sure to install MS08-067 if you haven’t done so yet, and be careful to use only autoplay options you’re familiar with, or consider disabling the Autorun altogether.”

Regardless, update critical security patches and run the latest McAfee anti-virus definitions.

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Speaker discussing viruses slithering into memory based devices here

I’m excited to work with uni-ball in 2009 in a partnership to help raise awareness about the growing threat of identity theft and provide tips for protecting yourself. Check out uniball-na.com for more information.

Identity Theft Speaker; Confickers Threat Hasn’t Waned www.IDTheftSecurity.com

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

We are not out of the woods with this one.

Conficker’s rise and fall and the passing activity of the worm on April 1st has allowed researchers and anti-virus companies to better understand the virus and its impact. While April Fools was supposed to be the day of reckoning for Conficker, it wasn’t and still isn’t a joke.

Viruses often come with a trigger date, as pointed out by CNET. And while many fail to meet the media hype, they still can and often do cause millions or billions in damage.

The media does what it does and reports on the news. While they or even I may not always get the facts straight, the impetus is still there.

In a “Conficker Postmortem,” CNET examines the media frenzy and points to a humorous spoof that Wired ran, a fake live blog from the “Conficker Worm War Room.” CNET also points out that, “The New York Times called it an ‘unthinkable disaster’ in the making. CBS’s 60Minutes said the worm could ‘disrupt the entire internet,’ and The Guardian warned that it might be a ‘deadly threat’.”

The positive result of this media hype is that it brings attention to an ongoing problem for an audience that never considered themselves vulnerable to these issues. In my world, even Facebook friends and Twitter followers who had never reacted to previous posts on a plethoraof IT and personal security issues are finally starting to ask the right questions.

“Your mom’s virus,” as we knew it, has become a part of popular culture. In a sense, this is a good thing, because it’s now water cooler talk with the same level of buzz as Britney Spears going nutty. We in the security community couldn’t ask for more and better attention, that may potentially enlist an army of security moms. Thank you, Conficker!

Still, Conficker is the most sophisticated virus to date and is still waiting to strike, which can very well lead to major data breaches and identity theft. As the virus continues to call home for the yet to be delivered update, researchers have determined an estimated 3.5 to 4 million PCs are infected on the Conficker botnet, which is the most powerful and dangerous aspect of Conficker.

Overall totals of infected computers may still be between 10 and 15 million. Many of those have a dormant virus that has the capability to wreak havoc, or that may have already been rendered impotent by anti-virus providers and IT administrators who have taken advantage of numerous solutions by McAfee and others.

What the public needs to understand is this infection is anything but over. The virus phones home every day looking for its next set of updates, which could still have catastrophic results if the virus ever reaches its full potential.

The risk here is that a virus of this kind has technology that can disable anti-virus software and that prevents access to numerous websites which provide automatic security updates, including Windows.

Today, Brian Krebs from the Washington Post points out the similarity’s to Y2K potential bug, just as I did last week. “In one sense, the response to Conficker could be compared to that of Y2K: A great deal of smart people threw a whole lot of resources and energy at a fairly complex problem and managed to turn a potentially very ugly situation into a relative non-event.”

The attention that Conficker brought upon itself has rallied security professionals to be on their highest guard, which is exactly where they should be.

See Robert Siciliano, identity theft speaker, discussing hacking for dollars.

I’m excited to work with uni-ball in 2009 in a partnership to help raise awareness about the growing threat of identity theft and provide tips for protecting yourself. Check out Uniball.com for more information.

Conficker virus has soft launch

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

With the world watching Conficker has reached out but has not delivered any new malware.

Computer World reports “We have observed that Conficker is reaching out, but so far none of the servers they are trying to reach are serving any new malware or any new commands,” said Toralv Dirro, a security strategist at McAfee Avert Labs, in Germany.

The sense is its developers know IT security professionals are watching closely and are waiting for the noise to die down before making its next update.

A virus of this kind has enough juice to wait around for the white hats to drop their guard then strike.

However there are cures to Conficker and the longer they wait the more PCs will be cured.

For Windows learn more about Conficker and its symptoms here.

McAfee has detailed instructions on its removal here

You may need an IT administrator to do the dirty works as it’s a bit complicated for some.

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Speaker discussing viruses here

I’m excited to work with uni-ball in 2009 in a partnership to help raise awareness about the growing threat of identity theft and provide tips for protecting yourself. Check out uniball-na.com for more information.