Symantec: File-Sharing, Social Web Target PCs for Spam Botnets

Dennis Faas's picture

While it is no secret that spam and botnet attacks are becoming more sophisticated with each passing day, there are a number of advanced security software programs that have been able to effectively combat malware in most of its forms. In spite of these positive strides, Symantec recently revealed new information that suggests botnets are adapting new methods of attacking computers.

In short, a botnet is a jargon term used to describe a network of computers under the control of 1 (or few) users. For example, a PC can become part of a botnet when the primary user inadvertently download and installs malicious software (virus / Trojan). Botnets are used for spamming primarily, or for attacking corporate structures.

Spam Campaigns Kept "Active and Fresh"

Symantec believes that virus-infected files which propagate botnets over file-sharing sites or social networks will continue to increase dramatically over the next few years. The end result will make botnets even more difficult to prevent.

According to the Symantec MessageLabs Intelligence 2010 security report, between 3.5 and 5.4 million botnets affected innocent users from around the world this past year. Still, even malware peddlers realize that in order to maintain (and even surpass) these figures, they must implement new "tactics to keep their spam campaigns active and fresh." (Source:

For example, hackers capitalized on the international fervor that came with the FIFA World Cup this past year. As MessageLabs Intelligence senior analyst Paul Wood notes, "From leveraging newsworthy events like the FIFA World Cup to taking advantage of the widespread popularity of URL shortening services and social networks, the spammers deployed a variety of tricks to bypass spam filters and lure potential victims."

Three of the Most Powerful Active Botnets

While the extent of such deceptive tactics has yet to be seen, Symantec intends to keep a close eye on Rustock, Grum and Cutwail; three of the most powerful spam-peddling botnets currently active and online the Internet.

The Rustock botnet alone sends out more than 44 billion spam emails per day, more than double their figures from this same timeframe last year. Of all botnet-related spam emails, 95 per cent were due in part to the efforts of Rustock, translating to over one million infected machines. (Source:

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