The Palestine-Israeli Conflict on the Web

As any conflict that happened in the 21st century, there is usually a parallel conflict raging online as well. Either commanded by individuals or groups, which can be helped or not by either government agencies or other interest groups, acts of cyberwarfare are getting more and more common. The conflict in the Gaza strip offers a new opportunity to explore this kind of activity. This time, reports of websites defacement are numerous and ongoing, some reporting that malware is spreaded from hacked websites and even an Israeli botnet is starting to grow in order to attack Hamas supporters servers.

Reports are now growing over hundreds of websites defacements of Western websites by Palestinians supporters1. Various Palestinian groups and supporters have been vandalizing Israeli and other western nation commercial websites by putting propaganda and redirecting to jihadist forums and/or uploading malware on the hacked web servers. Hackers mentioned in the article are Team Evil, DNS Team, Tw!$3r, KaSPeRs HaCKeR CreW, PaLiSeNiaN HaCK, MoRoCcAn HaCkErZ.

Palestinian Propaghanda insert into Defaced Websites
Palestinian Propaganda insert into Defaced Websites

Recently, sites from the U.S Army and NATO have also been targeted by the vandals2. Archived versions of the hacked NATO webpage can be found here and here for the hacked version of the U.S Army website. For now, only defacements have been reported and no real attack has occured. Web defacement is a very easy attack to do on web servers with weak passwords. Most of the time, the attackers are script kiddies using software such as AccessDiver with a list of proxies and wordlists to conduct dictionaries attacks on servers. Using AccessDiver is fairly simple and many tutorials can be found on YouTube. Other ways include of course exploits and SQL injections attacks. Surprisingly, no DDoS attacks have been reported yet, but a group of Israeli students launch the “Help Israel Win” initiative3. At the time of writing, the website was online available through Google’s cache. Anoher website (http://help-israel-win.tk/) has been suspended. The goal was to develop a voluntary botnet dubbed “Patriot” to attack Hamas-related websites:

We have launched a new project that unites the computer capabilities of many computers around the world. Our goal is to use this power in order to disrupt our enemy’s efforts to destroy the state of Israel4.

The website offered a small executable to download. This bot would receive commands as a normal criminal bot would. Hamas-friendly sites like qudsnews.net and palestine-info.info were targeted by the IRC botnet. Still according to the article, the botnet has come under attack by unknown assaillants5. No definitive number is given as to how many machines the botnet is controlling, it might range from anything from 1000 to 8000 machines6. Very few detail is given on how the bot actually works.

There was a very similar attempt to create a “conscript” botnet known as the e-Jihad botnet that failed to realized its objective last year, as the tool was unsophisticated and rather crude7. The e-Jihad tool had the same objective as the Patriot botnet, which was to launch DDoS attacks against various targets.

e-Jihad 3.0 Screen
e-Jihad 3.0 Screen

Nevertheless, this kind of parallel attack is due to become a popular civilian option to attack servers. The only thing needed is to create a solid botnet, by using some of the most sophisticated criminal botnets and transform them into voluntary “cyber-armies”. There is one problem thought…how can we make sure it’s legitimate ? Making such programs open source ? But then you reveal your command and control servers and information that could make the enemy hijack our own botnet. It then all comes down to a question of trust…and of course, a clear and easy way to remove the bot anytime.

See also :

“Army Mil and NATO Paliarment hacked by Turks”, Roberto Preatoni,  Zone-H, http://www.zone-h.org/content/view/15003/30/ (accessed on January 10, 2009)



1“Battle for Gaza Fought on the Web, Too”, Jart Armin, Internet Evolution, January 5, 2009, http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=717&doc_id=169872& (accessed on January 10, 2009)

2“Pro-Palestine vandals deface Army, NATO sites”, Dan Goodin, The Register, January 10, 2009, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/10/army_nato_sites_defaced/ (accessed on January 10, 2009)

3“Wage Cyberwar Against Hamas, Surrender Your PC”, Noah Shachtman, Danger Room, Wired, January 8, 2009, http://blog.wired.com/defense/2009/01/israel-dns-hack.html, (accessed on January 10, 2009)

4Copied from Google’s cache of help-israel-win.org

5Ibid.

6Hacktivist tool targets Hamas”, John Leyden, The Register, January 9, 2008, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/09/gaza_conflict_patriot_cyberwars/ (accessed on January 10, 2009)

7“E-Jihad vs. Storm”, Peter Coogan, Symantec, September 11, 2007, https://forums.symantec.com/t5/blogs/blogarticlepage/blog-id/malicious_code/article-id/170#M170 (accessed on January 10, 2009)

New Kid on the Block: Downadup

Many reports on the last few days mention a new worm growing on the back of the Windows’ MS08-067 vulnerability. The worm named Downadup, also being dubbed Conficker.A by Microsoft, as now spread to alarming levels: “We think 500,000 is a ball park figure” said Ivan Macalintal, a senior research engineer with Trend Micro Inc[1].

The Exploit

The vulnerability is located in the Windows Server service, which is used to share networks files and printers across computers on a Windows network. This service is used by all Windows versions, even the Windows 7 Pre-Beta version, therefore making every Windows user vulnerable unless patched[2]:

Microsoft Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 Windows Server 2003 with SP1 for Itanium-based Systems
Windows XP Service Pack 2 Windows Server 2003 with SP2 for Itanium-based Systems
Windows XP Service Pack 3 Windows Vista and Windows Vista Service Pack 1
Windows XP Professional x64 Edition Windows Vista x64 Edition and Windows Vista x64 Edition Service Pack 1
Windows XP Professional x64 Edition Service Pack 2 Windows Server 2008 for 32-bit Systems*
Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 Windows Server 2008 for x64-based Systems*
Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 Windows Server 2008 for Itanium-based Systems
Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition Service Pack 2

Vulnerable Operating System by the MS08-67 Exploit

The exploit is executed by sending a specially crafted packet to the RPC (Remote Procedure Call) interface. The interface could be reach by an attacker if there are no firewalls activated or if the File/Printer sharing options is enabled and connected to the Internet. The packet will cause a buffer overflow which allows arbitrary code to be executed.

The core of the exploit comes from a buffer overflow created when parsing a specific path. The exploit occurs when specially crafted packet is sent to port 139 or 445 on a Windows file/printer sharing session. The reception of that package will trigger a call to the RPC API NetPathCompare() and NetPathCanonicalize() functions.

The exploit is triggered when giving a specific path to canonicalize, such as “\c\..\..\AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”[3] to the NetPathCanonicalize function, which uses the _tcscpy_s macro, which in turns calls the wcscpy_s function[4]. This function is used to copy a wide-character string from a location in memory to another. The buffer overflow is provoked by a miscalculation in the parameters given to the _tcscpy_s macro by the NetPathCanonicalize() function.

The _tcspy_s function is called like this by the NetPathCanonicalize:

_tcscpy_s(previousLastSlash, pBufferEnd – previousLastSlash, ptr + 2);

NetPathCanonicalize contains a complex loop to check the path for dots, dot-dots, slashes while making a lot of pointer calculations. Once the loop is passed over a couple of time, the previousLastSlash parameter gets an illegal value.

The RPC call

To exploit this vulnerability, all one have to do is to bind with the SRVSVC pipe of the Windows Server Service, which is the RPC interface and bind with it. If this is successful, a call to the NetPathCanonicalize()function with a specially crafted path as shown above, is done, then it’s only a matter of providing the payload. Exploits are already public on sites such as milw0rm[5].

The New Worm: Downadup

Downadup is the new worm to use the exploit on a large scale and has proved to be widely successful even if it’s already been one month since the vulnerability was found and patched.

Once installed on a system, the worm will copy itself with a random name into the system directory %systemroot%\system32 and register itself as a service[6]. It will, of course, also add itself into the registry with the following key:

  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\<name>.dll
    ImagePath = %SystemRoot%\system32\svchost.exe -k netsvcs
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\netsvcs\Parameters\”ServiceDll” = “<name>.dll”

It will then use those sites to get the newly infected machine’s IP address:

  • http://www.getmyip.org
  • http://getmyip.co.uk
  • http://checkip.dyndns.org

With the IP address, Downadup can download a small HTTP server (“http://trafficconverter.biz/4vir/antispyware/loadadv.exe“) and open a HTTP server on the current machine with the following address[7]:

http://[EXTERNAL IP ADDRESS OF INFECTED MACHINE]:[RANDOM PORT]

Once the HTTP server is set up, it will scan for other vulnerable machines and when a target is found, the infected machine URL will be sent to the target as the payload. The remote computer will then download the worm from the URL given and then start to infect other machines as well. Therefore, there is no centralized point of download. Upon successful infection, it will also patch the hole to prevent other worms to infect the machine[8].

According to Symantec, it has a domain name generating algorithm based on dates just like the Srizbi has (see Srizbi is back for more details on the algorithm). It also deletes any prior Restore Points saved by the user or the system[9].

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[1] “New Windows worm builds massive botnet”, Gregg Keizer, ComputerWorld, December 1, 2008, http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9121958 (accessed on December 1, 2008)

[2] “Microsoft Security Bulletin MS08-067 – Critical”, Microsoft, October 23, 2008, http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/Bulletin/MS08-067.mspx (accessed on December 2, 2008)

[3] “Gimmiv.A exploits critical vulnerability (MS08-067)”, Sergei Shevchenko, October 23, 2008, http://blog.threatexpert.com/2008/10/gimmiva-exploits-zero-day-vulnerability.html (accessed December 2, 2008)

[4] “MS08-067 and the SDL”, The Security Development Lifecycle, October 22, 2008, http://blogs.msdn.com/sdl/archive/2008/10/22/ms08-067.aspx (accessed on December 2, 2008)

[5] See MS08-067 Exploit by Debasis Mohanty and MS08-067 Remote Stack Overflow Vulnerability Exploit for examples.

[6] “F-Secure Malware Information Pages: Worm:W32/Downadup.A”, F-Secure Corporation, November 26, 2008, http://www.f-secure.com/v-descs/worm_w32_downadup_a.shtml (accessed on December 2, 2008)

[7] “W32.Downadup”, Symantec, Takayoshi Nakayama and Sean Kiernan, November 24, 2008, http://www.symantec.com/security_response/writeup.jsp?docid=2008-112203-2408-99&tabid=2 (accessed on December 2, 2008)

[8] “Microsoft warns of new Windows attacks”, Gregg Keizer, ComputerWorld, December 1, 2008, http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9121958 (accessed on December 2, 2008)

[9] “Worm:Win32/Conficker.A”, Joshua Phillips, Microsoft Malware Protection Center, 2008, http://www.microsoft.com/security/portal/Entry.aspx?Name=Worm%3aWin32%2fConficker.A (accessed on December 2, 2008)

Srizbi is back

Update: The new Estonian company that hosted the command & control server, Starline Web Services, was shut down. The domain name chase continues !

The Srizbi botnet is back online after being shut down by the closure of the criminal hosting company McColo Corp two weeks ago. Srizbi’s command and controls servers, now moved to an Estonian hosting provider, took back control of the botnet[1] in the last days.

The Srizbi Botnet

The Srizbi botnet is mostly a spam generating botnet. According to security firm FireEye, there are 50 variants of the bot, which controls altogether around 500 000 zombies across the world[2]. The most virulent forms of Srizbi are said to control around 50 000 bots.

The Srizbi botnet had a backup procedure in case its C&C servers went down, that is why it got back online very fast. Included in the bot, is a procedure that generates domain names[3] and tries to contact it to see if the C&C is available. Therefore the owners, knowing the random-generating domain name algorithm of the botnet, only had to register one or more of the domain names that will be generated by the bots and install their new control and command server on a machine registered a valid domain name. That is enough for bots to download a new version, pointing to a new address for the botnet. To explain it using pseudo-code, it would look something like this:

More information can be found about the random name generation algorithm at FireEye[4]. Interesting enough, the algorithm is based on date to generate a new set of possible domains names by period. FireEye had successfully discovered this function after McColo closed, but due to financial constraint, they could not register all the domain names that the bot generated. That would have implied to register more than 450 domains each week…

We have registered a couple hundred domains,” Fengmin Gong, chief security content officer at FireEye Inc., “but we made the decision that we cannot afford to spend so much money to keep registering so many [domain] names.[5]

Communications intercepted between a Srizbi bot and its Command and Control Server
Communications intercepted between a Srizbi bot and its Command and Control Server

According to the Symantec Srizbi webpage[6], the worm creates windbg48.sys and another randomly named .SYS file in the %SYSTEM% folder. It then registers the wingdbg48.sys as a driver by inserting the hidden HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\windbg48 key into the Windows’ Registry. Srizbi hides those keys by running in Kernel mode and hooking the ZwOpenKey and ZwEnumerateKey kernel functions among others. It might also try to block access to the registry. A tool is available in order to access the registry anyway.

It will also hide its files by hooking the NTFS file system driver. As if it was not enough, it will also modify the TCP/IP network drivers to bypass Firewalls and Intrusion Detection systems. It will also work in Safe Mode.

For those who wish to go deeper, Windows has two levels of execution: user mode and kernel mode. Usually applications run in user mode, which protects the kernel from applications so they won’t mess up the system. Kernel mode is a privilege mode where services and drivers have access to system resources such as the processor but also the memory… Hooking kernel functions is done by redirecting calls made to the kernel to a custom function. There are a couple of ways to do that in kernel mode, and one of them is to alter the System Service Descriptor Table, which is a table that maps every kernel function to an address in memory. By modifying this table to the address of your custom function, you could hook the kernel. This however would be easily detected by any anti-virus.

Another way is to insert an unconditional jump instruction into the kernel function by modifying the function directly in memory. The advantage of this method is that it’s much harder to detect, and can reproduce the same functionality of the hooked function. This is called inline function hooking.

This why this Trojan can also work in Safe Mode. I don’t know if this particular Trojan uses inline function hooking, but rootkits that uses this kind of hooking are quite hard and dangerous to remove.

Return of Srizbi

When McColo Corp. closed two weeks ago following and investigation by the Washington Post’s Security Fix, it made the news across the Internet as this hosting company was considered responsible for around 75 percent of all the spam sent across the web. Although many rejoiced, including me, at the sudden drop of spam as soon as McColo was turn off[7], everyone knew it was only temporary before the cyber criminals would found another hosting company.

Few knew that this random domain name generating routine was coded to connect to another C&C server though. As soon as it came back online, the first command it received was for a Russian spam campaign. By generating domain names such as yrytdyip.com, auaopagr.com, qpqduqud.com or ydywryfu.com, it was unthinkable for FireEye to register every possibility generated by Srizbi. It is becoming harder and harder to fight botnets on a technical basic. Fortunately, the economic fight could maybe put an end to spam, as mentioned in this Ars Technica article:

“… it suggests that spammers may be extremely sensitive to costs-more so than was previously believed. Even a small increase in the cost of sending an e-mail, they postulate, could have significant ramifications for the botnet industry, and might slow the rate at which it grows or put some spam operations out of business altogether.[8]

The Rustock, Cutwail and Asprox botnets are also making a come back[9], provoking a new surge in spam in the last few days, but not quite yet at the same level of the pre-McColo era.

See also:

Windows Rootkits of 2005, Part One“, James Butler, Sherri Sparks, Security Focus, November 4, 2005, http://www.securityfocus.com/infocus/1850, (accessed on November 27, 2008)

Fallback C&C channels“, Alex Lanstein, Atif Mushtaq, Julia Wolf, and Todd Rosenberry, FireEye, November 16, 2008,  http://blog.fireeye.com/research/2008/11/fallback-cc-channels-part-deux.html#more (accessed on November 27, 2008)


[1] “Massive botnet returns from the dead, starts spamming”, Gregg Keizer, ComputerWorld, November 26, 2008, http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9121678 (accessed on November 27, 2008)

[2] “Srizbi Botnet Re-Emerges Despite Security Firm’s Efforts”, Brian Krebs, Washington Post – Security Fix, November 26, 2008, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2008/11/srizbi_botnet_re-emerges_despi.html?hpid=news-col-blogs (accessed on November 27, 2008)

[3] “Technical details of Srizbi’s domain generation algorithm”, Julia Wolf, November 25, 2008, http://blog.fireeye.com/research/2008/11/technical-details-of-srizbis-domain-generation-algorithm.html (accessed on November 27, 2008)

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Massive botnet returns from the dead, starts spamming”, Gregg Keizer, ComputerWorld, November 26, 2008, http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9121678 (accessed on November 27, 2008)

[6] “Trojan.Srizbi”, Kaoru Hayashi, Symantec, July 23, 2007, http://www.symantec.com/security_response/writeup.jsp?docid=2007-062007-0946-99&tabid=2 (accessed on November 27, 2008)

[7] “Spam plummets after Calif. hosting service shuttered”, Gregg Keizer, ComputerWorld Security, http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9119963 (accessed on November 27, 2008)

[8] “Study: Storm botnet brought in daily profits of up to $9,500”, Joel Hruska, Ars Technica, November 10, 2008, http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20081110-study-storm-botnet-brought-in-daily-profits-of-up-to-9500.html (accessed on November 27, 2008)

[9] “Srizbi botnet active again”, Jeremy Kirk, November 27, 2008, http://www.itworldcanada.com/a/Departmental-and-End-User-Computing/7167ba6c-1cd2-4c54-9338-95a63bea47fa.html (accessed on November 27, 2008)

How do Spammers Make Money?

A very interesting article on the BBC discussed on how to spammers actually earn money with their system.

Many of us might have asked themselves the question on “why do spammers still sends their e-mails?”, or “how to they make money?” After all, most of computer users know about spam by now. Well it appears that even if spammers gets only one answer for 12.5 million e-mail sent[1], that’s all they need to make the big bucks. That’s what a team from the International Computer Science Institute found out in their paper “Spamalytics: An Empirical Analysis of Spam Marketing Conversion“.

The researchers hijacked a part of the Storm botnet, which used to be one of the biggest botnet around, and rewrote a part of the command and control module of the bot. In order to measure the success of the spam campaign, the team set up two websites, one being a fake Canadian pharmacy and another was postcard website, used to make the user download malware.

Overall, the computer scientists spawn 8 proxies and 75 869 worker bots[2]. They sent 469 million of spam emails, trying to convince the recipients to buy products from the fake online pharmacy. They also made sure to distinguish the visitors on their website by identifying crawlers and honey clients from genuine clients.

From the 350 million spams sent for the pharmacy website, for a period of 26 days, only 28 people went to visit the purchase page of the fake website[3].

Location of the victims that visited the postcard website (white/gray dots) and the 28 victims that went to the purchase page of the pharmacy.

According to the report:

Under the assumption that our measurements are representative over time (an admittedly dangerous assumption when dealing with such small samples), we can extrapolate that, were it sent continuously at the same rate, Storm-generated pharmaceutical spam would produce roughly 3.5 million dollars of revenue in a year. This number could be even higher if spam-advertised pharmacies experience repeat business. A bit less than “millions of dollars every day”, but certainly a healthy enterprise[5].

The report can be found here.


[1] “Study shows how spammers cash in”, BBC News, November 10, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7719281.stm (accessed on November 10, 2008)

[2]Spamalytics: An Empirical Analysis of Spam Marketing Conversion“, Chris Kanich, Christian Kreibich, Kirill Levchenko, Brandon Enright, Geoffrey M. Voelker, Vern Paxson, Stefan Savage, International Computer Science Institute, 2008, p.6

[3] Ibid. p.11

[4] Ibid. p.9

[5] Ibid. p.11