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Microsoft Wins Court Victory Against Nitol Botnet

Microsoft scored another legal victory in its legal assault against botnets this week after a court gave the company the OK to seize control of a domain linked to malicious activity.

Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit won the right to host the 3322.org domain after the company was granted an ex parte temporary restraining order against Peng Yong; his company, Changzhou Bei Te Kang Mu Software Technology Co.; and others identified only as John Does, blogged Richard Domingues Boscovich, assistant general counsel in Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit.

The decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia enables Microsoft to block the operation of a relatively small botnet known as Nitol, as well as nearly 70,000 malicious subdomains hosted on 3322.org linked to more than 500 different strains of malware, Boscovich added. According to Boscovish, the Nitol malware is used to carry out distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that are able to cripple large networks. It also creates backdoors on the victim’s computer.

"The discovery and successive action against the Nitol botnet stemmed from a Microsoft study looking into unsecure supply chains," he blogged. "The study confirmed that cybercriminals preload malware infected counterfeit software onto computers that are offered for sale to innocent people. In fact, twenty percent of the PCs researchers bought from an unsecure supply chain were infected with malware. Making matters worse, the malware was capable of spreading like an infectious disease through devices like USB flash drives, potentially causing the victim’s family, friends and co-workers to become infected with malware when simply sharing computer files."

Microsoft was assisted in the case by DNS security provider Nominum, which served as a declarant in the legal case and helped filter the 3322.org domain traffic. However, the former owners of 3322.org have reacted by posting advice on how customers can bypass disruption efforts by Microsoft.

"From a Damballa Labs perspective, we currently track around 70 different botnets that currently leverage 3322.org's DNS infrastructure for C&C resiliency - using a little over 400 different third-level domain names of 3322.org," blogged Gunter Ollmann, vice president of research at Damballa. 

"Will the usurping of 3322.org kill these botnets? Unfortunately not," he continued. "There may be a little disruption, but it's more of an inconvenience for the criminals behind each of them. Most of these botnets make use of multiple C&C domain names distributed over multiple DNS providers. Botnet operators are only too aware of domain takedown orders from law enforcement, so they add a few layers of resilience to their C&C infrastructure to protect against that kind of disruption."

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