AOH :: ISN-3122.HTM

Trapping hackers in the honeypot

Trapping hackers in the honeypot
Trapping hackers in the honeypot 

By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent
BBC News website
10 October 2006

In this second part of our investigation using the BBC honeypot we 
recount what happened when we let the machine get infected rather than 
just log attacks.

It is rare that you would willingly let vandals and burglars into your 
home but a controlled environment like a honeypot computer lets you do 
the technological equivalent in relative safety.

The idea of letting the PC get infected was to see exactly what nasty 
programs hit our machine and how easy it was to recover from infection.

Firstly, we visited a few of the websites mentioned in the many fake 
security warnings that pop-up unprompted thanks to loopholes in Windows 

Much of the software available via these bogus warnings turned out to be 
a nuisance rather than downright malicious.

The programs offered a free scan of the honeypot machine looking for 
spyware and adware. Every one we installed found a huge amount of 
spyware lurking on the computer.

This was a surprise: The honeypot machine had only been used to visit 
the websites from which the bogus software had been downloaded.

Checking the results with a bona fide spyware spotter revealed that most 
of the spyware identified by the fake software was benign.

If this was not bad enough, all the fake security programs demanded 
money before they handed over the full results of the scan or tried to 
fix problems that were not there.

Spyware storm

One of the websites sending out fake security spam looked particularly 
interesting as it was listed on several "block lists" net service firms 
use to spot junk mail.

A visit to this website prompted an immediate re-direct to another site 
which popped up a box asking if we wanted to download the bogus security 

Sneakily this was an image rather than a Windows dialogue box so 
clicking anywhere on it, even the "cancel" button, got the download 

The download installed automatically and kicked off a tsunami of 
background downloading. The forensic software we had installed on the 
honeypot saw it connect to three or four other sites and start 
downloading from them - one was from a Thai hospital that was doubtless 
acting as an unwitting host.

The software was so sneaky that it tried to stop this traffic being seen 
by injecting it into the processes usually used by the Internet 
Explorer. We knew this was the case because IE's homepage had been set 
to be blank - ie when it was running there would be no net traffic.

The result of the installation was new toolbars on the IE browser, a 
whole list of new unwanted favourites, all web searches were hijacked 
and redirected plus pop-up adverts populated the desktop.

The machine was becoming unusable because it was so busy so we were 
forced to cut the net connection.

The bogus download went into overdrive trying to get back online. The 
meter clocking processor usage zoomed to 100% as it desperately tried to 
drag more stuff into the PC.

The machine became hard to shut down and we could only shut it off by 
pulling the virtual plug.

The end result of that single download was a PC that was unusable as it 
was so clogged with adware and spyware. A quick scan of the machine 
revealed that seven viruses, mostly trojans, had been installed during 
the orgy of downloading.

We reverted back to the original configuration of the honeypot machine 
to get rid of the problems but this particular chunk of spyware was not 
done yet.

On the honeypot a USB drive was being used to take backups of the attack 
logs. This had been plugged in to the machine while the fake security 
program installed itself.

The USB drive had gained a new passenger - the core program of the fake 
spyware. If we had let this continue, doubtless it would have fired off 
next time the drive was plugged in to any other machine. It was a close 

Cleaning up the PC proved impossible. It was lucky we could just revert 
to an earlier configuration. If the honeypot had been a home PC almost 
everything stored on it, pictures, e-mails, might have been lost.



* Use anti-spyware and anti-virus programs

* On at least a weekly basis update anti-virus and spyware products

* Install a firewall and make sure it is switched on

* Make sure updates to your operating system are installed

* Take time to educate yourself and family about the risks

* Monitor your computer and stay alert to threats

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