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14.6. Counterattacks

An interesting opportunity for the defender is the possibility of counterattacking a worm-compromised remote system in an attempt to clean it. Several security professionals have experimented with using counterattacking worms to clean worms from a remote system; not surprisingly, some have been convicted as a result. As explained in Chapter 9, competition between various kinds of worms often results in a worm war: one worm killing another worm or set of worms. Although this kind of attack sounds like a beneficial worm attack, it is an unacceptable method for several obvious reasonsand it could result in criminal prosecution.

So what can you do when the idea crosses your mind to counterattack a worm that is clearly out of control on your network? You might be able to attack systems that are under your control; by "under control" I mean that the systems should belong to you.

For example, if your network administrator asks you to assist in cleaning up some in-house CodeRed infections, you could help him out. To solve the problem, you could collect a large set of local IP addresses from firewall logs and use NC (NetCat) to send a short attack ("cure") packet to each system suspected as a CodeRed attacker.

Note

Do not forget that all IP addresses must belong to you, and the permission should be given to you by the network administrators. (Ideally, you are the administrator.)


The attack packet can contain exploit code similar to the one built into CodeRed, but a return address should be set to zero using the exploit, and of course, there is no need for worm code of any kind! The attack packets might be sent to each machine suspected to be infected with CodeRed, according to personal firewall logs, for example.

When the zero return address hits, it generates a page fault in the process address space of vulnerable Microsoft IIS, cleaning the CodeRed infection as a result. This is because the fault quickly restarts the vulnerable service without CodeRed. (As discussed in Chapter 10, CodeRed is only present in memory.) Of course, the counterattack would not be so simple in the case of worms involving files or vulnerabilities that cannot be exploited more than once.

Make sure that there are no mission-critical systems involved, so that this quick-and-dirty method can be used to clean a network effectively in seconds. Of course, you might need three repeated shots before the counterattack packets do their job.

Some people would argue that any infected system should be cleaned, so they counterattack remote systems that do not belong to them, without asking permission from the system's actual owner. This presents a dilemma: It would be great to stop the infections on all remote systems, but there is a chance that the counterattack might be harmful in some way to the infected remote system, resulting in data loss, so as a general advice, always think first before you proceed!

Also note that some network-level vulnerability assessment tools might have a side effect that can be used to clean up worm infections in a similar fashion to the previous examplebut such tools might have similar implications. For example, a possible implication is data loss as a result of exploitation of a remote system (for instance, an unprocessed or partial transaction to a Web or SQL server).

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