What’s Conficker going to do on April Fools' Day?
The answer is that nobody knows, but security researchers may have a breakthrough that could mean network admins won’t have to find out the hard way.
On 1 April, the latest version of Conficker will change its operations and start to contact domains on the internet, presumably for new instructions.
According to the Microsoft Security Response Team, this is identical behaviour to what an earlier version of the worm did, but a new algorithm means that the latest version Conficker.D can contact a bigger pool of domains.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen when it does make such contact, and this fear of the unknown has - perhaps understandably - worked some media outlets into a bit of a lather.
Microsoft and the Conficker Working Group said they were taking actions to disrupt this new worm, but how serious is this threat and what are the security vendors doing about it?
This sort of worry always happens with any sort of countdown or date trigger, especially if the date is particularly significant.
On the 1 January in the year 2000, some expected the millennium bug to cause significant computer failures. Nothing much happened, but it did cause a lot of panic.
Security vendor F-Secure certainly doesn't think there is anything to worry about. They said that there is always media hype when a widespread worm has a date trigger, citing cases like Michelangelo, CIH, Sobig, Mydoom and Blackworm.
Trend Micro was in agreement. It said that online threat history suggested that triggers or activation dates of equally-hyped malware has come and gone without much fanfare.
Kaspersky wasn’t so willing to dismiss it out of hand, and made the point that it was difficult to predict what the botnet would do when it contacted 500 of the 50,000 pool of domains it randomly generates daily.
However, in common with other security vendors, Kaspersky said that if machines were clean from Conficker and patched, users had nothing to worry about.
Recent news that Conficker successfully infiltrated the House of Commons has fanned the flames. If the highest governmental institution in the land can’t protect itself properly from a Conficker attack, what hope does industry have of stemming the tide?
That said, Dan Kaminsky, other researchers and the Conficker Working Group may have hit on a breakthrough solution.
Looking at Conficker’s profile on a network, it changes what Windows looks like – which can apparently be detected 'remotely, anonymously and very, very quickly'.
A proof of concept scanner is out, while enterprise-scanners will follow, hopefully heralding the end of Conficker.