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From: InfoSec News (isn_at_c4i.org)
Date: Tue Jan 28 2003 - 12:42:03 CST
By Dennis Fisher
January 27, 2003
As corporate IT departments go about the business of cleaning up their
networks, there are strong indications that the SQL Slammer worm that
brought down portions of the Internet over the weekend is based on the
work of an obscure Chinese cracking group.
Signatures within the worm's source code indicate that a group known
as the Honker Union of China - also known as the Hacker Union of
China - may be responsible for writing the code, according to security
experts who have analyzed the code. However, experts caution that
although they are certain of the code's origins, someone else may have
actually loosed the worm on the Internet.
"We're 100 percent certain this was based on the CNHonker code," said
Chris Rouland, director of the X-Force research team at Internet
Security Systems Inc., in Atlanta. "But that doesn't mean they
Although the Honker Union has not yet claimed responsibility for the
worm, it has posted on its Web site in the past several versions of an
exploit for the vulnerability used by Slammer. The group has been
quite active in pro-Chinese and anti-American hacking activity in the
past and was involved in a U.S.-Chinese cyber-skirmish that erupted in
The worm did most of its damage in Asia, particularly South Korea,
which was effectively taken off the Internet for several hours
Saturday. And some experts have pointed out that the Slammer worm was
released on the anniversary of a major offensive in the Korean War
that began pushing back Communist Chinese forces that had penetrated
Despite the possible political motivations behind the worm's release,
White House security officials downplayed the idea that this was an
act of terrorism.
"We'd rather characterize terrorism as something that physically kills
people," said Marcus Sachs, director of communications infrastructure
protection in the Office of Cyberspace Security in Washington. "There
was no lasting damage done to the infrastrucutre. We'd like to see the
term cyber-terror dropped."
The worm, known variously as Slammer and Sapphire, hit the Internet
around 12:30 a.m. Eastern on Saturday and began spreading quickly.
Within the first hour, it had infected more than 50,000 machines,
Rouland said. It continued to spread throughout the day Saturday and
has now found its way into more than 200,000 machines, experts say.
Its infection rate was much faster than the Code Red worm of 2001,
even though there are far fewer SQL servers on the Internet than there
are Web servers running the Microsoft Corp. IIS software that Code Red
But, while Code Red continued to spread for several days, Slammer was
contained relatively quickly. The shorter life-cycle is due to several
factors, but much of it has to do with quick reactions from ISPs and
large network operators who all agreed to block traffic on port 1434,
which is the port Slammer uses to infect machines. This kind of
wholesale filtering is virtually unheard of and would not have been
possible with Code Red. Also, government agencies reacted much more
quickly to Slammer than they did to previous attacks, thanks mainly to
experience and help from private-sector security firms.
"There was quite a bit of activity going on here," said Sachs. "We
first saw it, I think at the [National Communications System] at about
1 a.m., and by 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. everyone who needed to know was out of
bed and notified."
Others agreed that the cooperation among the various ISACs, government
agencies and private firms was key to the worm's containment.
"I was the first one to call the [National Infrastrucutre Protection
Center] and that was at about 3:45 a.m., and we had a pretty good
handle on the analysis by then," said Pete Allor, director of
operations for the Information Technology Information Sharing and
Access Center and manager of the threat intelligence service at ISS.
"We had the packet captures early, and the analysis was pretty
straightforward. We talked to the Financial Services ISAC, [and]
worked closely with the telecom folks, all of them."
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