Security Experts:

Half of Fortune 500 and Government Agencies Infected With DNSChanger Malware

In November 2011, the FBI and international authorities announced the disruption a massive cybercrime scheme that infected more than four million computers with DNSChanger Malware, malicious software that actively changes an infected system's DNS resolution settings to use rogue servers that can redirect traffic to malicious servers and attempt to steal personal information and generate illegitimate ad revenue.

The sting, dubbed “Operation Ghost Click”, took down the cybercriminal operation which reportedly generated approximately $14 million for the cybercriminals over several years, and culminated with the arrest of six Estonian nationals.

DNSChanger MalwareIn addition to the arrests, the rogue DNS servers operated by the cybercriminals were seized and replaced with legitimate servers for 120 days.

But despite the success in taking down the criminal operation, research shows that the malware is still prevalent and lingering in many corporate and government networks.

In fact, according to analysis conducted by IID (Internet Identity), a Tacoma, Washington-based provider of Internet security services, approximately half of all Fortune 500 companies and what it considers “major” U.S. federal agencies are infected with DNSChanger malware.

IID says that it found at least 250 of all Fortune 500 companies and 27 out of 55 major government entities had at least one computer or router that was infected with DNSChanger in early 2012.

While IID was unable to share details on specific organizations infected with the malware, the FBI previously said that systems infected included those belonging to U.S. government agencies, such as NASA and educational institutions, as well as commercial businesses.

If an enterprise’s employee has DNSChanger on their computer, it means that enterprise is susceptible to having their proprietary information stolen, the company said. That’s because DNSChanger disables Anti-Virus (A/V) and regular software updates, exposing victims to attacks from other virus families. This enables criminals to view any data, messages exchanged and more on a victim’s computer, depending on what the victims’ machines are infected with.

“Initially, DNSChanger was so worrisome because it could redirect you from a safe web location to a dangerous one controlled by cyber criminals,” said IID president and CTO Rod Rasmussen.

“The risks for corporations now, is that infected machines could possibly have other malware and are left unprotected as a result of the DNSChanger disabling A/V products,” Lars Harvey, CEO at IID told SecurityWeek. The second issue, Harvey said, is that come March 8th, it could create a major helpdesk issue once the FBI's temporary DNS servers are shut down. “Internet functionality for any DNS associated request on infected systems would be useless,” Harvey said. “For organizations that have a single system on a network infected, it’s not a big deal, but for one that has a thousand infected systems, it could be a helpdesk nightmare.”

Without further court actions, on March 8, 2012, infected computers and routers will have no servers to handle their DNS requests, and the Internet may literally go dark for those using infected computers or routers.

A tool for determining if an individual's machine is affected can be found on the FBI website. The FBI is also seeking to build an even bigger case against the miscreants by calling on all people and organizations who find that they have infected devices submit a victim report form here.

IID along with other organizations and companies who have teamed up to combat DNSChanger by forming the DNS Changer Working Group, IID is offering to help identify the IP addresses of machines infected by DNSChanger on any enterprise’s network for free. All an enterprise needs to do is send IID their Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) blocks and IID will let them know if they've got an infection.

To see if DNSChanger is on your network, you can take advantage of free information from one of several organizations contributing to the effort to clean up infected machines before time runs out. An up-to-date list of organizations you can contact to get this information can be found at the DNS Changer Working Group website.

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For more than 10 years, Mike Lennon has been closely monitoring the threat landscape and analyzing trends in the National Security and enterprise cybersecurity space. In his role at SecurityWeek, he oversees the editorial direction of the publication and is the Director of several leading security industry conferences around the world.