Beware of Zombies

Beware of Zombies
Beware of Zombies 

By Bob Brewin
September 17, 2007

Attack of the Chinese Zombies

The wave of cyberprobes or cyberattacks against Pentagon networks and 
government computer systems in France, Germany, New Zealand and the 
United Kingdom this summer appears to emanate from China, but no one in 
authority in the Defense Department or any of the other countries that 
have been victimized seems willing to finger the Chinese government or 
military as the culprit.

Paul Strassmann -- who served as director of Defense information in the 
early 1990s, the acting chief information officer of NASA from 2002 to 
2003, and now serves as a Defense senior adviser -- declines to point 
fingers, either. He prefers, instead, to focus on one startling fact 
about Chinese activity in cyberspace: As of the morning of Sept. 14, 
there were exactly (remember, Strassmann is an engineer and likes 
precision) 735,598 computers in the United States infested by Chinese 
zombies, he said. Zombies are those small programs that infect computers 
at the root level and allow the computers to be controlled by remote 

"This is a fact that should get everyone's attention," Strassmann said. 
Those zombie computers can launch massive denial-of-service attacks, 
spewing 1,000 messages a second against target computers, he said.

While at NASA, Strassmann experienced a massive zombie-directed 
denial-of-service attack which eventually shut down eight of the 
Internet's root servers. The servers help direct traffic globally 
through a master directory of domain names.

The zombies infecting U.S. computers today could be used to launch a 
massive cyberattack, which Strassmann described as "the cheapest attack 
weapon a nation can buy."

I have a hunch that the 735,598 U.S. computers infected by Chinese 
zombies did not come about because China is filled with a lot of bored 
teenagers with broadband connections who just like to goof around in 

Want to monitor the inexorable march of the Chinese zombies on your own? 
Strassmann suggests checking out the zombie stats on a Web site 
maintained by CipherTrust.

Millions of GIG Scans a Day

Defense experiences millions of cyberscans of the Global Information 
Grid every day, according to an internal talking paper it prepared in 
response to news reports this month that China had successfully attacked 
Pentagon computer systems, including those used by the Office of the 
Secretary of Defense.

The paper dances around the subject of Chinese culpability and would 
only go as far as to report, "We have seen attempts by a variety of 
state- and nonstate-sponsored organizations to gain unauthorized access 
to, or otherwise degrade, DoD information systems."

Well, that certainly narrows it down.

The Microsoft Petri Dish

Strassmann said one reason that zombies and other cybernasties succeed 
so well is that they can easily hide in the hundreds of millions of 
lines of code that make up Microsoft operating systems and applications. 
Microsoft-based systems are a "Petri dish" for zombies, he said, adding 
that global reliance on MS systems exacerbates the problem.

Since there are no real, inexpensive alternatives to MS today, 
Strassmann said users really, really need to be conscious of even 
seemingly innocent e-mails that can be used to launch a zombie attack.

It's hard to believe, but evidently there are some folks out there who 
have not figured out that e-mails flogging Viagra are scams -- and 
potential zombie launchers.

How About Some DeVenCI Code For Zombies?

In a bit of serendipity, the Critical Information Technology Sector 
group, part of the Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative (DeVenCI), plans 
to hold a network survivability and recovery workshop on Nov. 13. Maybe 
out of that workshop will come a new zombie killer?

DeVenCI is looking for innovative companies who do not normally conduct 
business with Defense to make short pitches on their network software, 
gadgets and gizmos. Anyone interested in the workshop should e-mail an 
application (hopefully from a noninfected machine) to no 
later than Friday, Sept. 28.


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