Virus Hits British Defences

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I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how KL’s airport information system had been infected by a virus. I shouldn’t have gotten so het up. Turns out that the UK’s air force and navy have bigger problems.

ITV News reported on Friday that the Ministry of Defence’s computer network has been shut down “because of a mysterious virus that is causing wholesale disruption of MoD sites.” Among those affected were Royal Navy ships including the Ark Royal and RAF [Royal Air Force] bases including Brize Norton.

The Register quotes a statement from the “MoD that [s]ince 6 Jan 09 the performance of the MOD IT systems in a number of areas was affected by a virus.” The Register says “no command or operational systems had been affected, though many of these are based on similar hardware. Spokespersons also stated that “no classified or personal data has been or will be at risk of compromise” due to “pre-existing security measures”.”

This is less than a month after the Royal Navy announced it had switched its nuclear submarines to a “customized Microsoft Windows system” dubbed, snappily, Submarine Command System Next Generation (SMCS NG).

In 1998 the USS Yorktown was “dead in the water” for about two and a half hours after a glitch in its new Smart Ship system, which used off-the-shelf PCs to automate tasks sailors traditionally did manually. The mishap sunk the Smart Ship initiative, which was quietly dropped a couple of years later.

A report in Portsmouth Today said the virus had affected 75% of the navy’s ships, preventing sailors from sending email and performing tasks (like finding out how many sailors are joining the ship at its next port of call). A blog on the Ministry of Defence’s website denied a report in The Sunday Times that ‘all email traffic from a number of RAF stations has been sent to a Russian internet server’ as a result of a ‘worm virus that entered MOD systems 12 days ago’. (The report makes it appear like it was a Russian attack, which is unlikely. But I’m not sure how the MoD can be so sure that emails were not diverted in that way.)

Neither do I know how they can be sure that it wasn’t a targeted attack. As Graham Cluley of Sophos points out, it’s more likely it was human error. But aside from the issues that raises—just how many MoD computers are hooked up to the Internet, and how smart is this? What kind of antivirus software do they have installed on the computers that are?—I would prefer the MoD not to jump to the conclusion that it’s not a targeted attack.

The reason? We need to stop thinking about cyberwar and malware as two different things. Governments rarely launch cyberattacks. But individuals and gangs do—and they usually do it for a mix of nationalistic and commercial motives. This case probably is just a screw-up. But it’s foolish to discount the notion that the information that may have been gleaned—accidentally, perhaps—would prove of value to a government or an agency.

(Image above is the result of my trying to search the Royal Navy website for the word “virus”. )

Articles | MoD computers attacked by virus – ITV News

KL’s Airport Gets Infected

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If there’s one place you hope you won’t get infected by a computer virus, it’s an airport.

It’s not just that the virus may fiddle with your departure times; it’s the wider possibility that the virus may have infected more sensitive parts of the airport: ticketing, say, or—heaven forbid—flight control.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport—Malaysia’s main international airport—was on Friday infected by the W32.Downadup worm, which exploits a vulnerability in Windows Microsoft patched back in October. The worm, according to Symantec, does a number of things, creating an http server on the compromised computer, deletes restore points, downloads other file and then starts spreading itself to other computers.

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Enlargement of the photo above. The notification says Symantec Antivirus has found the worm, but has not been able to clean or quarantine the file.

KL airport clearly isn’t keeping a tight rein on its security. The virus alert pictured above is at least 12 hours old and the vulnerability it exploits had been patched up a month before. Says Graham Cluley of UK-based security software company Sophos: “What’s disturbing to me is that over a month later, the airport hasn’t applied what was declared to be an extremely critical patch, and one which is being exploited by malware in the wild.”

What’s more worrying is that this isn’t the first time. It’s the first time I’ve noticed an infection on their departures/arrivals board, but one traveller spotted something similar a year and a half ago, with a Symantec Antivirus message popping up on one of the monitors. I saw a Symantec Antivirus message on one monitor that said it had “encountered a problem and needs to close”, suggesting that the worm had succeeded in disabling the airport’s own antivirus defences:

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So how serious is all this? Cluely says: “Well, it’s obviously a nuisance to many people, and maybe could cause some disruption.. but I think this is just the most “visible” sign of what may be a more widespread infection inside the airport.  I would be more concerned if ticketing and other computer systems were affected by the same attack.”

He points to computer viruses affecting other airports in recent years: In 2003, Continental Airlines checkin desks were knocked out by the Slammer worm. A year later, Sasser was blamed for leaving 300,000 Australian commuters stranded, and BA flights were also delayed.

For me, the bottom line about airports and air travel is confidence. As a traveler I need to feel confident that the people deciding which planes I fly and when are on top of basic security issues. And that doesn’t mean just frisking me at the gate. It also means keeping the computer systems that run the airport safe. This is probably just sloppy computer habits but what if it wasn’t? What if it was a worm preparing for a much more targeted threat, aimed specifically at air traffic?

(I’ve asked KL International Airport and Symantec for comment.)

Are The Worm Wars Over?

German police on Friday arrested two men: an 18-year old man in Rotenburg in connection with the Sasser worm, and a 21-year old who confessed to creating a bot called Agobot or Phatbot.

A lot of folk believe the gang responsible for the Sasser worm may also be responsible for the Netsky worms, which have been infecting computer users for most of this year. Sophos’ Graham Cluley, for example, says, “If you scrutinize the most recent Netsky worm, you can see that the author embedded a taunt to anti-virus companies, bragging that he also wrote the Sasser worm. If this is the case, this could be one of the most significant cybercrime arrests of all time.”

Cluely goes on to say: “All these worms have been highly disruptive and complex, suggesting that the author isn’t working alone. Seizing this man’s computers could provide the vital clues that will bring down the infamous ‘Skynet’ virus-writing gang. We would not be surprised if more arrests follow in due course.”

What I’m interested in are claims that the people behind these attacks were not just doing it for fun, but for money, by setting up chains of zombie computers and then selling the connections to spammers and fraudsters. Could this also shed light on the Russian and Eastern European underworld, or are the groups not connected?

News: Wanted, Dead Or Alive: Virus Writers

 Microsoft is a mite upset, and is offering $500,000 reward to inform on the virus writers responsible for the Blaster and Sobig worms. (In August, if you recall, the Blaster-A worm infected many unprotected home and business computers, attempted to launch a denial of service attack against a critical Microsoft security update website, and, most importantly, mocked Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. The worm exploited a critical security hole in versions of Microsoft Windows. Just days later the Sobig-F worm, which spread on the Windows platform, bombarded email users around the world, clogging up email servers.)
 
Sophos, the anti-virus people, had this to say: “It’s no surprise to hear that they are fed up with this situation and prepared to offer a reward for the capture of these virus writers,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.  “There must be people out there in the computer underground who know who is responsible for the creation of these malicious worms. Offering a total of $500,000 will be a great temptation for someone to break their silence – and do all legitimate users of the Internet a favour.”

News: Man Blames Trojan For Porn, Acquitted

   Sophos reports that a British man has been cleared of storing child pornography on his computer after Trojans — malicious bits of code, a kind of virus — were found on his computer. The man had been arrested after 172 indecent pictures of children were found on his hard drive (the report doesn’t say how). A computer forensics consultant identified 11 Trojan horses on the man’s computer, capable of carrying out actions without the user’s knowledge or permission. The acquittal follows the case of another British man who was cleared in April under similar circumstances.
 
 
Seems, according to Sophos, that all these images could have been put there by someone remotely. Know anyone who might do that to you? “Some Trojan horses have the ability to take ‘remote control’ of your PC,” explains Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Anti-Virus. “A remote hacker can view what you are doing, take over your keyboard, steal information and even upload files to your computer if they wish. There can be no excuse for home users surfing the internet not to be running up-to-date anti-virus software and a personal firewall to keep their systems protected.”