Home Security DDoS game used to broaden hacker's botnet: report

DDoS game used to broaden hacker's botnet: report

A Turkish hacker who goes by the handle Mehmet has created what appears to be a game, wherein he awards points and hacking software as prizes to fellow hackers who participate in a DDoS game.

But Mehmet's real intention is different: he appears to be using a backdoor to take over the computers used by the participants without their knowledge in order to broaden his own botnet.

Researchers from the Forcepoint security company discovered this when they found a new piece of malware during a routine investigation. This led them to a website which used the term Balyoz (Sledgehammer in Turkish) and used an image of Seyit Onbasi, a Turkish military hero from the turn of the 20th century.

This led the Forcepoint team — Abel Toro, Nicholas Griffin and Andy Settle — to discover the setup where hacking crews from Turkey came together to carry out DDoS attacks on a specified target list of organisations.

They were initially rewarded with points and later provided hacking software with no specified list of targets, so they could use it as they wished and attack targets of their own choice.

The targets that the hackers were allowed to attack as part of the game were political: Kurdistan was prominent, with organisations such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its military wing, the People’s Defence Force (HPG) being targeted.

But the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU) was also among the targets, as was the Armenian Genocide archive run by the Armenian National Institute in Washington DC.

This list of targets raised questions in the researchers' minds: what was the motivation driving those who were participating in the DDoS game - ideological motivation or ultimate financial gain?

The researchers also questioned the motive of Mehmet who was pulling all the strings and wondered what he was getting out of it.

When Toro, Settle and Griffin began to reverse engineer the software, they discovered the backdoor that Mehmet could use, to make the computers of those who were participating in his game, part of his own botnet.

The evidence they found also led them to hypothesise that Mehmet could be working for a Turkish defence contractor that supplied signals intelligence systems among other things.

The three researchers have put down their findings in a detailed 28-page report which can be found here.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.