Linux servers turned into bots by 'IptabLes' and 'IptabLex' malware

PenguinsA botnet that infects and exploits poorly-maintained Linux servers has been used to launch a spate of large DDoS attacks targeting DNS and other infrastructure, Akamai’s Prolexic division has warned.

Dubbed the ‘IptabLes and IptabLex botnet’ the attack target versions of Apache Struts and Tomcat, as well as some running Elasticsearch that have not been patched against a clutch of vulnerabilities.

Once compromised, the attack elevates privileges to allow remote control of the server from which the malicious code is dropped and run, after which it awaits direction by the bot’s command and control. The binary connected to two hardcoded addresses running on China Telecom, while anyone whose server has been infected will probably notice poor performance.

The bot had been used to launch a number of DDoS attacks during 2014, including a significant one that reached a peak of 119Gbps, on entertainment websites.

Corralling Linux servers for DDoS is a relatively new tactic and this particular campaign appeared to be in its early stages and prone to instability, Akamai said, urging admins to patch and harden vulnerable Linux servers as soon as possible.

"We have traced one of the most significant DDoS attack campaigns of 2014 to infection by IptabLes and IptabLex malware on Linux systems," said Akamai senior vice president and general manager, Security Business, Stuart Scholly.

"This is a significant cybersecurity development because the Linux operating system has not typically been used in DDoS botnets. Linux admins need to know about this threat to take action to protect their servers."

In Akamai-Prolexic’s view, the gang behind this malware was likely to expand their targeting of vulnerable Linux servers, as well as broadening the list of targets.

Detection and remediation? Antivirus doesn’t appear to be a reliable option – only two out of 52 engines picked it up as of May 2014 when the firm started monitoring the threat and by September that had only risen to 23 out of 54. Victims will, of course, notice IptabLes or. IptabLex running.

Prolexic has published a method involving a pair of bash commands and a reboot, so getting rid of this isn’t hard. As for mitigation, the firm recommend rate limiting and has added a rule to the YARA open source tool for good measure.

The most important message is still the need to patch. Don’t leave Linux to rot.

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