Application-Based Control: the Future of Botnets?

During the last six years, botnets have become one of the biggest threats to security professionals, businesses, and consumers. We at McAfee Labs have just released more information about how cybercriminals can use common social networks and common web applications, such as Twitter and XMPP-enabled applications like Google Talk, to take over a user’s computer.

As Web 2.0 services evolve, so do the efforts of botnet writers. They are rapidly adopting new technologies to increase the sophistication of their attacks. We have identified the following trends in botnets and social media:

  • Twitter-controlled bots are the most prevalent example of using social media to receive and execute bot commands
  • KreiosC2, though a proof-of-concept research tool, effectively demonstrates how LinkedIn and other social networks and applications can be used to control a botnet
  • Protocol standards such as XMPP, used for authentication, presence, and messaging, can also be used by cybercriminals to communicate with botnets and execute malicious attacks

The dangers from controlling a bot or botnet through an application such as Twitter cannot be understated. Using widely adopted and deployed applications like Twitter to control a botnet effectively allows the attacker to hide in plain site by using an application or website that is allowed on most desktops worldwide. There’s nothing to it: Log into a Twitter account from a variety of Twitter applications (I’ll use TwitScoop) and send an update:

Get Ready For DDoS Attack!!!

Then we send our command:

Attack Command Sent Through Twitter Baby!!

It really is as simple as that: decentralized, application-based control of one or many bots. Don’t try this at home: I ran this exercise from a private Twitter account with only one follower (my other Twitter account) in a research environment, so there was no danger!

The McAfee Labs research team has released a report that examines TwitterBots, KreiosC2, and XMPP as examples of how cybercriminals can use social networks as the new platform for botnet command, control, and attack.

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