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Microsoft announces $250,000 Conficker worm bounty

Conficker/Downadup worm inspires industry posse to round it up

By , Network World
February 12, 2009 03:28 PM ET

Network World -
The spreading Conficker/Downadup worm is now viewed as such a significant threat that it's inspired the formation of a posse to stop it, with Microsoft leading the charge by offering a $250,000 reward to bring the Conficker malware bad guys to justice.

The money will be paid for "information that results in the arrest and conviction of those responsible for illegally launching the Conficker malicious code on the Internet," Microsoft said today in a statement, adding it is fostering a partnership with Internet registries and DNS providers such as ICANN, ORG, and NeuStar as well as security vendors Symantec and Arbor Networks, among others, to stop the Conficker worm once and for all.

"By combining our expertise with the broader community, we can expand the boundaries of defense to better protect people worldwide," said George Stathakopoulos, general manager of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group.

Conficker, also called Downadup, is estimated to have infected at least 10 million PCs. It has been slowly but surely spreading since November. Its main trick is to disable anti-malware protection and block access to anti-malware vendors Web sites.

But security experts are concerned about a potentially much worse second stage of the Conficker worm, as it calls home each day to more than 250 command-and-controls servers around the world as it awaits instructions on future downloads or actions.

"The policy we have here is to target the update mechanism," says Gerry Egan, director of product management for security products and response at Symantec, a member of the stop-Conficker coalition.

While the unique domain names for servers used for Conficker control may constantly change on a daily basis, the anti-Conficker coalition anticipates that by the major domain-name registrars working in collaboration, it may be possible to "take out those domains," or otherwise interfere in the smooth flow of the Conficker operations, says Egan.

A Microsoft spokesperson says Conficker is trying to download malware from these domains and it also uploads infection counts to these domains, but this is not a new trend. A large percentage of these domains are being blocked from being registered. Secondly, a number of the domains are being redirected toward "sinkhole" servers that are owned by trusted research partners around the world. Sinkhole servers allow researchers to observe the worm’s activity, according to Microsoft.

This  partnership between Microsoft, security researchers, ICANN and operators within the domain name system has proactively disabled a significant number of domains targeted by Conficker to disrupt the use of the worm and prevent potential attacks, the Microsoft spokesperson says.

Symantec, which is contributing its malware-analysis expertise to the group, believes there are two main versions of Conficker, "Flavor A" and "Flavor B," which appear to have propagated an additional 450,000 and 1.7 million copies of themselves respectively in the last four days alone.

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