Government and industry leaders around the world issued a dire warning that the Code Red Internet worm will emerge for another round of lethal attacks today. As well as wrecking havoc on unprotected systems it’s expected to slow down the Internet as a whole.
"Users must act quickly to mitigate damage from the worm," cautioned Ronald Dick, director of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) in Washington. "Government and industry are doing all we can to get the word out."
Because Code Red poses a potential threat to the Internet-dependent economy and has national security implications, public and private sector officials for the first time teamed up to sound the alarm. Specifically, Code Red could wreak havoc on the nation's most crucial sectors, including telecommunication, electrical power, and financial services, said Kenneth Watson, chairman of the Partnership for Critical Infrastructure Security (PCIS).
"We have evidence that a new variant of the worm will be unleashed tomorrow and use 'zombie' servers to mount a denial of service attack against businesses and individuals," Watson said.
Organizations began bracing for the reawakening of Code Red on Sunday. NIPC, the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT Coordination Center), the Federal Computer Incident Response Center (FedCIRC), the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), the SANS Institute and Microsoft were among those who issued alerts.
Groups on Sunday began calling on Web server administrators to ensure that their server software is up to date. By Monday, however, officials were looking to ready all home and office users for the attack.
Groups also warned that the expected pervasiveness of the attack could drag down the speed of the entire Internet. "The fact that the Internet may suffer degraded service is of concern to our government and governments around the world," Dick said.
Code Red first wreaked havoc on July 19. Officials predicted the new outbreak of Code Red because the worm operates on a time clock. For the first 19 days of a month the worm is set up to scan and infect, but from day 20 until day 27 the worm floods a certain IP (Internet protocol) address - in this case the White House Web server - with information requests, causing a denial-of-service attack. The White House Web server has since been given a new IP address.
Officials on Monday said the White House site should not be considered the ultimate target of the worm's propagators.
"We have no idea what the ultimate target is. The proliferation of the worm and the volume of its impact are now of ultimate concern," Dick said.
Code Red is a self-propagating worm. It scans the Internet for vulnerable systems and infects these systems by installing itself. Once it has nestled itself on a server, it uses that server to scan the Internet for other vulnerable servers and infects those. Web pages on compromised servers are altered. In the first nine hours of its outbreak on July 19, Code Red infected more than 250,000 systems, according to the CERT.
The worm targets servers running Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) software versions 4.0 and 5.0. It exploits a buffer overflow vulnerability in the Indexing Service DLL of the Web server software. IIS is part of Windows NT and Windows 2000. A patch for the hole has been available since June 18.
The FBI and Secret Service are investigating the origins of Code Red but so far have no suspects, Dick said.
Law enforcement officials are hoping for a similar outcome as with the February 2000 denial of service attacks, when members of the public came forward with tips that led to an arrest.
When asked whether aspects of the worm pointed to the work of an amateur, a representative from Internet Security Systems (ISS) said it is difficult to build a "psychological analysis" of the perpetrator at this point. The ISS official added that the code is "tight" and "fairly well-written."
Monday's high-pitched warning over Code Red is warranted, according to Simon Leech, an Amsterdam-based security engineer for Network Associates.
"When the worm was first discovered, it infected servers for a couple of days. Administrators had started patching servers but may have stopped, thinking the threat was gone," Leech said. "We've got to make sure everybody applies the patch. We could be facing an Internet meltdown, depending on how many unpatched servers are out there. It's going to come down to how many vigilant administrators are out there."
More information on the IIS Indexing Service DLL flaw and the software fix are available on Microsoft's TechNet Web site.