January 19, 2004 8:10 AM PST

New worm draws Sobig comparisons

Computer security experts fear a new worm that began spreading rapidly across Australian e-mail networks on Sunday could be a rehearsal for a more concerted attack in coming weeks.

The worm--dubbed Bagle-A--carries an expiration date, possibly indicating that more robust versions of the worm could be slated for release soon, said Daniel Zatz, security director for Computer Associates Australia.

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While Bagle-A is already successful--responsible for an 80 percent increase in queries to CA's help desk and in virus submissions to rival computer security company Sophos--the current version of the worm contains bugs, Zatz said.

Comparing Bagle to the infamous Sobig virus that flooded global e-mail networks last year, Zatz said he fears that a more virulent version of the new worm could appear soon.

"One of our biggest concern is that if we look back a year ago at the Sobig variants, they all had drop-dead dates, and every time one hit that drop-dead date a new variant came out--a new and improved variant of it," Zatz said.

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Bagle-A is due to expire Jan. 28, suggesting that tuned variations of the worm could appear as early next week.

Bagle-A's creators, like authors of many previous successful worms, have relied on the ignorance and curiosity of e-mail users for the worm's success.

The worm arrives in e-mail in-boxes as a message containing few lines of text suggesting the e-mail may be from system administrator, as well as an executable attachment. When the attachment is activated by its receiver the worm then installs a program on the recipient computer that allows the worm to be e-mailed on to other users in the system's local address book.

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The worm also attempts to install a backdoor or Trojan horse on infected machines, listening for activity on port on 6777.

Sean Richmond, support manager with antivirus software vendor Sophos Australia and New Zealand, said the company was still examining the Trojan horse to see what else it's capable of.

Given that most corporate e-mail servers block transmission of executable attachments, CA's Zatz believes that home and medium-size business users are responsible for spreading the new worm.

Another possible factor in the worm's success, Zatz said, was the fact the worm's creators programmed the worm to e-mail itself to handful of popular domains to evade swift detection by dominant Web enterprises such as Hotmail, MSN and a large Russian computer security agency.

Users who suspect their computers may be infected with the virus should look for a file called bbeagle.exe in their Windows System directory. The file disguises itself with Microsoft familiar calculator icon.

Andrew Colley of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.


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