Following a takedown operation in early December 2017, the Andromeda botnet is expected to slowly disappear from the threat landscape, ESET says.
Also known as Wauchos or Gamarue, the botnet has been around since at least September 2011 and lived through five major versions over the years. The Andromeda malware was detected or blocked on an average of around 1.1 million machines every month over the six months leading to the takedown.
The botnet was mainly used for stealing credentials and to download and install additional malware onto compromised systems. Thus, systems infected with Andromeda would likely have other threats installed on them as well, ESET says.
Some of the threats usually distributed via Andromeda included Kasidet, also known as Neutrino bot, which can launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and Kelihos and Lethic, which are notorious spambots known for their involvement in massive junk mail campaigns. It was also used for the distribution of the Dridex banking Trojan and point-of-sale (PoS) malware GamaPoS.
Andromeda was distributed through various methods, including social media, instant messaging, removable media, spam, drive-by downloads, and exploit kits. Because it didn’t conduct targeted attacks, the malware could infect any computer if the user clicked on malicious links.
Since there were no obvious signs to alert the user on the infection, the botnet managed to remain hidden and compromise a large number of systems. Featuring a modular design, the botnet could get additional capabilities through plugins such as a keylogger, a form grabber, and a rootkit.
ESET Senior Malware Researcher Jean-Ian Boutin, who was involved in the takedown operation, explains that the botnet’s numerous features and continuous development made it appealing to cybercriminals interested in using it. Thus, Andromeda was able to survive for a long period of time and to also become a prevalent threat.
At the time of Andromeda’s takedown, security researchers identified 464 distinct botnets, 80 associated malware families, and 1,214 domains and IP addresses of the botnet’s command and control (C&C) servers.
The takedown operation, a joint effort from the FBI, the Luneburg Central Criminal Investigation Inspectorate in Germany, Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), the Joint Cybercrime Action Task Force (J-CAT), Eurojust, and private-sector partners, built on information gathered during the shutdown of a large criminal network known as Avalanche.
According to Boutin, investigators started gathering information and evidence in 2015 and needed a lot of time to get everything ready for a law enforcement operation. Following the takedown, authorities seized control of Andromeda’s C&C servers and the botnet is expected to slowly disappear.
“It will probably slowly disappear as remediation is under way. For this type of long-lived botnet, it is very hard to clean all the systems that have been compromised by Wauchos, but as long as the good guys are in control of the C&C servers, at least no new harm can be done to those compromised PCs,” Boutin says.