Lord Maitreya's Internet Marketing Adventures

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Riders on the STORM

Have you ever wondered where spam mail comes from?  It’s actually underwear-soilingly horrifying.  You’d think that it all comes from guerrilla marketing firms who get paid a few cents for every response to an email that they generate.  That’s… kind of true… but most of it comes from this guy:

This is the face of the biggest douche on earth

(Image courtesy of cracked.com)

This man is Leo Kuvayev.  He is one of the most powerful men on the internet.  It wouldn’t come as a terrible surprise to me if you haven’t heard of him, but it’s good that you’ve heard of him now, because this man is thought to be running the largest malicious botnet on EARTH, known as the STORM botnet, which consists of tens of MILLIONS of infected computers (and yes, Macs too).  He is thought to be the Russian spammer who took down Twitter, Facebook, and other sites with D-DOS attacks over the past few years.  He’s wanted in numerous countries, and is thought to be currently operating under the alias, “Alex Rodriguez,” and has set up numerous domains under that name, sending spam, peddling illegal pharmaceuticals, and probably any other awful thing you can imagine on the internet.  He is still known as the Spam King online, or simply as “Leo,” and some speculate that he is responsible for 20% of the world’s spam.  (All information from Wikipedia and various articles)

I would jump at the chance to knock his teeth out for all the stupid La Quinta Inn spam I keep getting, but there’s a reason he’s still out there: he is dangerous.  He is a real-life supervillain.  It gets a lot worse than you think.  All those computers in the STORM botnet aren’t in underground bunkers all over the world… they’re in your living room.  That’s right, STORM sends out BILLIONS of messages per day, many of them laced with malware that busts right through your antivirus software and converts your computer from an atheist right into the STORM religion.  And you’d never know that your home computer is partially responsible for the spam people are getting, but that’s exactly how it works.  And, to put it lightly, that’s just him messing with people and getting rich.  He sells D-DOS attacks and spam campaigns.  But if he wanted to, he could topple entire economies.

The STORM botnet is widely believed to be powerful enough to knock entire countrywide networks off the internet.  If that doesn’t scare you enough, I can bet that this video of the initial 8 hours of the STORM worm’s outbreak will quickly terrify you.

There’s even more to it than that. According to Arstechnica.com, STORM has gone on the offensive, and even attacked the root servers of the internet, of which there are 13. Guess what? It severely damaged 2 of them. STORM has countermeasures and defenses that are probably more sophisticated than the Pentagon’s.  And even more terrifying, according to Wikipedia, there are bits of STORM for sale, meaning you could start your own botnet with a little tech know-how and a lot of guts.  If the internet was planet Earth, this would be just like selling nukes to anyone who wants them.

And then there’s the bandwidth that this network of zombie computers needs.  Think about it this way:

Imagine that, in your community, there is a den of evil sorcerer spider men from Mars.  Everyone knows where they live and who they are, but they turn you to dust if you come within a hundred yards of their lair (which is on Maple street, in case you were wondering).  On top of that, they come and raid every grocery store in town every day, taking stuff EVERYONE wants, like kitty litter, canned peaches, and those bags of Mexican-style four-cheese medley.  And everyone lets them, because even LOOKING at them wrong will instantly and unexplainably kill you and your whole family.  Would you mess with them?  Didn’t think so.  It would take an army of men willing to be reduced to fine powder to even get close.  Now imagine that the stuff they’re stealing is the finite resource of internet bandwidth.  Or, to put it a different way, it takes up a friggin TON of internet space.  That’s the STORM botnet in a nutshell.  It attacks people who even HINT at tracking them down.  I’d rather be a pet than cattle, so I’m just going to submit to my digital ruler and get it over with.

As if STORM’s existence wasn’t bad enough, it’s only operating at 10%-20% capacity.  That’s right.  If the whole thing came online, and a customer purchased a D-DOS attack (because that’s actually how that stuff works), no entity on the internet could conceivably counter the attack.  If a customer decided they wanted all of Texas to be blasted back into the 80’s, Leo could easily do it.  He can target specific addresses, cities, or whole countries.  If he even caught a whiff of authorities coming for him, the amount of damage he could do in a few minutes could plunge much of the earth into chaos.  And get this… they think he’s either in Finland OR Tahiti.  So, what they’re really saying is, he could be ABSOLUTELY ANYWHERE.  But does it matter?  Does it matter where he is when he could easily trigger deadly cyber-warfare attacks from prison with nothing but a phone call? STORM has undoubtedly collected credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, and other information on hundreds of millions of individuals across the globe.  Imagine if it just went Fight Club on us and reset EVERYONE’S credit score to zero.  That would RUIN the world’s economy overnight.  Even if he got caught, Leo runs an international cybercrime ring.  He could trigger the worlds most catastrophic disasters from behind bars.  I’m sure he has some awesome code word to start the attack from prison… something like…

"Baby make wee-wee. You know what to do"

(image courtesy of archives.seacoastonline.com)

So, how do we fight a real-life supervillain?  Do we wait for a real-life supernerd Superman to show up?

Don't worry, this guy's got our back

(Image courtesy of randomfunnypicture.com)

NO.  The best defense is almost none at all.  If you don’t want your computer turned into a zombified husk that sends deadly messages to other computers, DON’T OPEN MESSAGES FROM SENDERS YOU DON’T KNOW.  I know, we hear that all the time, and we think it’s a load of hogwash (need to start using that word more), but it’s true.  Don’t open messages from unknown senders.  Study how botnets work.  I think that using the internet is like driving a car.  Some people are better at it than others, but everyone needs to know some basic rules, and one of them was just discussed.  If you take anything away from this post (which you won’t, because you didn’t read it), just take away that one piece of advice.

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March 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment