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9.7 Remote Control via Signaling

Attackers often want to control their creations remotely, for example, to execute a DoS attack against a selected target or to control the propagation of the worm to new systems. The most obvious technique is based on the use of a backdoor feature built into the worm that communicates directly with a particular host. However, other known techniques centrally control the worm, such as via IRC or Windows domain mail-slots. Consider Figure 9.16, which illustrates the attacks of W32/Tendoolf.

Figure 9.16Figure 9.16 The remote-controlled Tendoolf worm.

Some of the variants of this worm only propagate the infection to new targets whenever the attacker sends a ".spread" signal to an IRC server into a discussion channel of the worm itself. When the attacker sends the ".spread" signal, the already compromised systems look for new targets to infect. Techniques include e-mail, instant messaging, and SubSeven backdoor-compromised nodes attack. In addition, the attacker can execute a DoS attack against any target. The target of the DoS attack is unknown to the compromised systems (it is not hard-coded in the worm) until the attacker sends the command. Then the compromised nodes turn against the specified target and execute various kinds of flooding methods. Hence the name of the worm, which is Floodnet spelled backwards.

This kind of remote control–based worm propagation is often confusing for junior antivirus researchers.

9.7.1 Peer-to-Peer Network Control

Some computer worms implement a virtual network between infected nodes to establish communication and control operations. The Linux/Slapper worm is an example of this kind of computer worm. Slapper uses the UDP protocol and port 2002 on each infected node. When the worm infects a new target, it passes the attacker's IP address to the target system. Then each node receives the IP addresses of all other nodes and keeps these in a list. Whenever a new IP address is introduced, all other nodes receive the update via this special virtual network, which uses TCP-like (stateful) features to ensure that the information arrives at the target correctly. The infected nodes select a random set of other machines to broadcast the updated information on the network. This is called a broadcast segmentation technique.

The remote control interface of Linux/Slapper is very advanced. The code is borrowed from the BSD/Scalper worm, which was based on a previous attacker tool. Just like Scalper, Slapper implements a hierarchical network structure35 that keeps track of systems the worm has infected. Slapper supports a large set of commands that implement UDP flood, TCP SYN flood, IPv6 SYN flood, and DNS standard query flood DoS attacks; it also supports the execution of arbitrary commands on the compromised nodes.

Consider Figure 9.17 for a possible illustration of a Slapper worm infection. When the first node is infected, it receives the IP address of the attacker host, followed by the list of all other nodes that are in the network, and so on.

Figure 9.17Figure 9.17 A Slapper worm infection.

Figure 9.17 only illustrates how the infection is passed from one system to the next. Figure 9.18 is a possible way to illustrate the hierarchical relationships between the infected nodes as a P2P command network. Because more than one initial infection might be started by the attacker, there might be multiple smaller and larger P2P networks parallel to each other without any connection, similar to the configuration shown in Figure 9.18.

Figure 9.18Figure 9.18 Slapper worm P2P network hierarchy.

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