Hackers are continuing to bombard Georgia by sending out a new batch of malicious spam messages, apparently with the aim of building a new botnet network of remote-controlled computers.
The poorly worded messages now make up close to five percent of the spam traffic measured by the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Spam Data Mine, according to Gary Warner, a director of computer research and forensics at the university. That's about a third of the volume of the CNN- and MSNBC-related spam that has been flooding inboxes this week, but it's still significant, he said.
With headlines like "Mikheil Saakashvili gay scandal! New of this week!" the stories try to trick victims into clicking on a fake BBC story about the president of Georgia. When the victim clicks on the link, however, he is taken to a malicious web server that then tries to infect his computer.
Disturbingly, the attack code used by this web server is not blocked by most anti-virus products, Warner said. In tests, his team found that only four out of the 36 anti-virus products featured in the Virus Total malware testing service spotted the code.
So far, Warner's team has tracked the messages back to 44 spam-sending computers, none of which has previously been associated with junk email. Interestingly, six of these computers are located in Russia, which is rarely a direct source of spam, and one of them lies within the Russian Ministry of Education.
Although the spammers seem to be setting up a botnet, the ultimate use of this network remains unclear. Warner speculated that it could be used to launch further cyber-attacks against Georgian government computers.
Symantec has identified the malicious software as a variant of the Trojan.Blusod program, said Kevin Haley, director of product management with Symantec Security Response. In the past, spammers have used this program to install fake anti-virus software on victim's computers, which then falsely identifies problems and offers to clean them up for a fee, he said.
Warner disputed Symantec's analysis, noting that Symantec itself was not detecting the Trojan program, according to Virus Total. "This is new malware," he said.