Information Warfare: There's a Nuke on the Net

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August 20, 2007: Cyber War professionals are watching with great interest the progress of the Storm botnet. This is the largest botnet ever seen, and it is acting like something out of a science fiction story. The Storm computer virus had been spreading since early in the year, grabbing control of PCs around the world. By August, Storm had infected nearly two million computers with a secret program that turned those PCs into unwilling slaves (or "zombies") of those controlling this network (or botnet) of computers. Many of you may have noticed a lot of recent spam directing you to look at an online greeting card, or accompanied by pdf files. That was Storm, the largest single spam campaign ever. When you try to look at the PDF file, Storm secretly takes over your computer. Anti-virus programs are disabled and Storm tries very hard to hide itself. All it wants to do is use your Internet connection to send spam, or other types of malicious data.

To avoid the police (especially the U.S. FBI), many botherders (those who operate botnets) are usually in countries without an extradition treaty with the United States, where nearly half the zombie PCs are. Criminal gangs are increasingly active in producing things like Storm, and, in the case of China, so are government Cyber War operations. It's unclear who is controlling the two million Storm zombies, but it's becoming clear what Storm is up to. It has been launching attacks at web sites involved in stopping or investigating Storm. This involves transmitting huge quantities of bogus messages ,that shut down targeted web sites (this is a DDOS, or distributed denial or service attack). The Storm botherders are also advertising their botnet as available for the usual illegal activities (various types of spam).

But the most alarming aspect of all this is the sheer size of the Storm botnet. It's quite possible that it's not all one, huge, two million PC botnet. There may be several owners, who simply used variations of the basic Storm virus (which showed up last February, using as a lure the promise of news about the huge Winter storms then lashing Europe, and thus got its name.)

Police and Cyber War organizations are certainly trying to track down who controls Storm, mainly in self-defense. A botnet that large could shut down major sites, or large chunks of the Internet itself. The Storm is the Internet equivalent of a nuclear weapon, and no one is sure who controls it.

 


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