Are Botnets Beating Us in the War on Spam? - The Magnitude of the Problem
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Just how big is the problem? As you could probably figure out from the information I’ve given you so far, the numbers only tell part of the story. Joe Stewart, senior security researcher at SecureWorks, says that many of the problems have been traced to a hacking ring based in Russia that controls a peer-to-peer botnet based on SpamThru containing some 70,000 clients. The hackers controlling the network practice a level of meticulousness rarely seen in the criminal world, as Stewart found when he managed to gain access to the files of a SpamThru controller.
The controller held statistics on the country of origin of all the bots in the botnet. While U.S. bots made up more than half of the botnet, it included clients from 166 countries. The controller even tracked the versions of Windows installed by each client. Windows XP with service pack 2 was the predominant operating system in the botnet.
Stewart also found that the hackers had broken into about 20 investment and financial news sites to collect user databases with email addresses. Presumably these addresses would become the targets of pump-and-dump stock spam. In an interview with eWeek, Stewart explained that “The thinking is, if they get an e-mail address for someone reading stock market and investment news, that’s a perfect target for these penny stock scams.”
If you think you’re safe because you never post your email anywhere online, think again. The SpamThru Trojan lifts email addresses from the hard drives of infected computers. So even if you have only given your email address to a few personal friends or other essential contacts, if they’re infected, you’re wide open to being spammed.
So just how powerful is this botnet? Stewart estimates that it can theoretically send one billion email messages in a single day. While that’s only a fraction of the estimated 60 billion emails sent every day, that’s also a low estimate. “This number assumes one recipient per message, [but] in reality, most spams are delivered in a single message with multiple recipients at the same domain, so the actual number of separate spams landing in different inboxes could be even higher,” Stewart explained.
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