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CHAPTER 5 s WORMS AND OTHER MALWARE
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5.2.3. The Creation of CERT
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Due to the damage and level of disruption that the Morris worm caused in 1988, the US government decided to fund an organization called the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT). Carnegie Mellon University ran CERT as a research, development, and coordination center for emergency response to attacks. Since 1988, CERT has become a leading center not only on worm activity but also on software vulnerability announcements. CERT also works to raise awareness about our cyber-security even at the time of writing of this book.
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5.2.4. The Code Red Worm
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In 2001, the Code Red worm surfaced (CERT 2002). It exploited a buffer overflow vulnerability in the Microsoft IIS web server. The web server had an indexing server feature turned on by default. Code Red took advantage of the buffer overflow vulnerability in IIS to propagate. Once Code Red infected a particular machine, it started randomly scanning other IP addresses to try to connect to other IIS web servers at those IP addresses. It spread from one web server to another quickly (over 2,000 hosts per minute [Moore and Shannon 2002]).
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CODE RED ATTACKS THE WHITE HOUSE
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Once the Code Red worm had infected a particular web server, it conducted a DDoS attack against the White House s web site if the date happened to be between the 20th and 27th of the month. The DDoS attack consisted of sending lots of data packets to the White House s web site. This sometimes resulted in using all the bandwidth of the client s Internet connection, and in slowing down or taking the White House web site offline. In addition to the DDoS attack, the worm defaced the home page of the web server that it infected.
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Code Red was interesting because it was able to spread at speeds that humans simply could not keep up with. In order for the worm to spread from one web server to another, it only had to construct an IP address, connect to the web server at that IP address, and exploit the buffer overflow vulnerability at the other web server. The entire process took milliseconds. Human response takes minutes or hours. Since the worm was able to spread to thousands of machines within minutes, there was little that anyone could do to react to the attack quickly enough to curtail it. Another interesting characteristic of the Code Red worm is that it spread rampantly, even though there was virus scanning software running on some of the machines it infected. Virus scanning utilities often scan for infected files they look for particular bit patterns (sometimes called signatures) in files that may be infected with viruses. However, to prevent being detected, Code Red would just stay resident in the web server s memory. Code Red did not write any files to disk, and, as a result, was able to evade automated detection by some typical virus scanners. At the same time, a user could check if her machine was infected simply by viewing the home page returned by her web server. Anyone visiting an infected web server was alerted, since Code Red defaced the front page of the web server. Unlike most worms, Code Red was much more easily detectable by humans than some virus scanners.
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CHAPTER 5 s WORMS AND OTHER MALWARE
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Because Code Red was resident only in memory, it could be eliminated from a particular web server just by rebooting the machine. Yet, even if you rebooted an infected web server, it would typically get reinfected very quickly! So many other infected web servers were continuously scanning for victims that it wasn t long before one of them happened to construct the IP address for your server and reinfect it. As such, firewalls were used to block traffic from being sent to web servers to prevent reinfection.
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