Friday, May 29, 2009

'The Zombies That Ran Wild in Washington'

Anne Davies writes in The Age:

A few weeks ago, in the offices of a Washington company that has close links to the Obama Administration, a server crashed, setting off an alarm.

The chief technology officer was puzzled. This sort of computer should not crash, so he printed out a log of the incident and then rebooted it.

Over the next few days, staff reported that their computers were sluggish and the technology officer started to suspect that the earlier alarm might have been the harbinger of a cyber attack.

Because of the sensitive nature of the work it was doing, the company called in the FBI. The log revealed that the server had been talking to a computer that runs the switchboard in a large hotel, even though it was not supposed to talk to anyone outside the company.

Records of the hotel's internet service provider showed that its system had been regularly talking to a computer in Shanghai, which was using the hotel computer as a command-and-control centre to relay instructions to compromised computers - the "zombies" - in the Washington office of the firm.

The zombies were coming alive each night and disgorging emails, directories, personal financial information and documents to a hacker in Shanghai, who investigators believe is part of a team sponsored by the Chinese Government to probe computers in the US.

The FBI knows who the hacker is. He left his initials in the virus - undetectable by more than 40 commercial antivirus programs. After visiting hacking chat rooms, the FBI identified a man with the initials in question and has even seen his photo on Facebook, but it is no closer to catching him.

More here.


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