Storms mystique comes in part from one of the most challenging aspects to dealing with the botnet: its rabid self-defense mechanisms. "If you try to attach a debugger, or query sites its reporting into, it knows and punishes you instantaneously," he said. "[Over at] SecureWorks, a chunk of it DDoS-ed [directed a distributed-denial-of-service attack] a researcher off the network. Every time I hear of an investigator trying to investigate, theyre automatically punished. It knows its being investigated, and it punishes them. It fights back."Hence the hush-hush nature of research around Storm. Corman said he can tell us that its now accurately pegged at 6 million, but he cant tell us who came up with the figure, or how. Besides retribution, Storms ability to morph means that those who know how to watch it are jealously guarding their techniques. "None of the researchers wanted me to say anything about it," Corman said. "Theyre afraid of retaliation. They fear that if we disclose their unique means of finding information on Storm," the botnet herder will change tactics yet again and the window into Storm will slam shut. What really has his clients worried, though, is what Storm hasnt yet done, Corman said, with the exception of small hits such as that against SecureWorks or other researchersransom sites with DDoS. Theres precedent for such a scenario, and the results havent been cheering. When it comes to the war of good guys (security researchers) versus bad guys (botnet herders), botnets have won, hands down. Corman referenced the case of Blue Security, an Israeli-based startup whose aggressive anti-spam measures in May 2006 drew a counterattack from spammers that was so vicious, it forced the company out of business. "Somebody wrote a [botnet], and Blue Security did a really good job of fighting," Corman said. "So [the attackers] did a DDoS and took it off the Net for awhile. Blue Security went to the best anti-DDoS technology on earth. The next onslaught came and [Blue Securitys defenses] worked. So the botnet herder stole two other peoples botnets. With three botnets, [the attack] worked, to the point where the ISP said, Im not going to let you take down my entire ISP to protect you, youre on own. And Blue Security is now out of business." A particularly disturbing point to keep in mind, Corman said: Botnets in May 2006 were very, very small, compared with Storm.
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Those researchers who have devised ways to accurately research the scope, techniques and technologies of the botnet are hushed up by their superiors who are well-aware of the retribution that botnet herders have already wrought on those who tried to defeat them, Corman said.