Hacker gang warfare on the rise

Published 5 April 2007

Bot herders fight one another for market share; Storm worm instructed computers to attack the wily Warezov gang

When we were young, gang members wore red and blue bandannas and preferred drive-by shootings as their offensive tactic of choice. Nowadays, however, they are more likely to get inside their enemies’ homes through the DSL line than through a blasted-out window. According to MSNBC, the ranks of hacker gangs — sporting such names as Rustock and Warezov — are exploding, and although consumers find it irritating enough to be victimized by bots, spam, and malware, much of the gangs’ attention is paid to fighting off rivals. “They are cutthroat and competitive. They are in it to make a lot of money…. These guys are ruthless to begin with and don’t care who they hurt, as long as they get their dollars,” said Jose Nazario, a security researcher at Arbor Networks.

The new “digital gang warfare” is not physically violent, although for many of its victims computers are almost an extension of their physical bodies. Most of the time, attacks consist of attempts to knock rival spammers and “bot herders” off the net, typically as part of an effort to expand market share. Consider the case of the Storm worm, one of the largest virus attacks to date. Not only did it infect millions of computers worldwide, it also intructed those computers to attack Web sites run by the Warezov gang. When the Warezov gang then shut down its sites as a defensive measure, it also had to shut down its own bot herding and spamming operations — a major success for its rivals. “They were attacking sites that were known distributors of other bots,” said Joe Stewart of SecureWorks. “It is an automated war at this point … on a massive scale,” Stewart said.