Microsoft Hampered Zeus Botnet Investigations, Researchers Say
Microsoft's mishandling of the recent Zeus botnet takedown hurt related law enforcement and private research investigations, Dutch researchers allege. Will a proposed code of conduct for botnet takedowns help in the future?
Microsoft's unprecedented aggressive legal strategy in botnet takedowns came under fire from researchers in the Netherlands, charging that the software giant's most recent botnet dismantlement operation has ultimately damaged international law enforcement and private research investigations.
Michael Sandee, principal security expert at Netherlands-based Fox-IT, wrote in a blog post Thursday that, rather than truly injuring the Zeus botnet operations last month, Microsoft instead has hampered investigations into these operations by its actions last month of removing and confiscating two of the command-and-control (C&C) servers under a federal court order. With U.S. marshals escorting them, a team from Microsoft, FS-ISAC (which represents 4,400 financial institutions), and electronic payments association NACHA on March 23 physically removed C&C servers used in the operation that were running out of two hosting services centers--one in Scranton, Pa., and the other in Lombard, Ill.--which resulted in the takedown of two IP addresses of the C&C infrastructure.
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Microsoft acknowledged at the time that the operation would not stop Zeus-based operations, and that the goal was not to permanently kill all of the Zeus botnets targeted in the operation, but instead to disrupt this segment of the operation.
But Fox-IT's Sandee says Microsoft's actions did harm to the good guys. "Microsoft has endangered the success of countless ongoing investigations in both the private as the public sector all over the world from east to west," Sandee said in his post. "Obviously as most of these folks are located in Russia and Eastern Europe, the cooperation between parties in those regions and in western countries on both public and private sector side has been hurt more than you can expect, and also years of trust building has potentially been lost ... In our discussions with law enforcement officers, private investigators, and members of [non-governmental organizations] researching these threats from across the globe, we have found nothing but disappointment and disbelief regarding the irresponsible actions executed by Microsoft. Various other researchers have outed their disappointment."
Richard Boscovich, senior attorney for Microsoft's digital crimes unit, said in a statement that Fox-IT's post "is based at least in part on some factual misunderstandings about the operation which we are more than happy to discuss with Fox IT."
Boscovich says he can't comment on details of the case because it's a legal matter, but noted that the details in the court filings are not all of the evidence and intelligence gathered in the operation.
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