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Sunday, 09 September 2018 05:35

UK security researcher Hutchins claims he once persuaded attacker to stop DDoS Featured


British security researcher Marcus Hutchins, who is awaiting trial in the US over allegations that he created and help distribute a banking trojan, has claimed that on one occasion in the past he located and contacted an attacker who had launched a massive DDoS attack in the UK, and asked the individual who was behind it to desist from doing so, a request that was ultimately heeded.

Hutchins provided details of what he had done in a tweet thread on Saturday night Australian time, saying that he was doing so because "it looks like all the details are public".

He was referring to the criminal complaint made by the FBI on Friday Australian time, alleging that a North Korean attacker was behind the WannaCry ransomware. Hutchins inadvertently stopped the spread of this malware by registering a domain that he found within its code.

Hutchins wrote the thread after a tweet he published saying, "There was this one time I stopped a major DDoS attack by tracking down the person responsible and asking them nicely to stop", was treated with some disbelief.

In the thread — in which he did not specify dates — he said he and a friend had developed an automated platform for finding botnets that were based on the source code of the well-known Mirai botnet. "We'd feed the information into a system which would monitor their control servers and notify us of any DDoS attacks they launched," he said.

They had begun to notice a specific botnet which was much more advanced in terms of infrastructure and spreading very fast. Reasoning that this could not be the work of an amateur, he and his friend started investigating who was behind it.

"Based on attack patterns it looked as if the owner was running a DDoS-for-Hire service, but the high price point meant it appealed to more sophisticated attackers, rather than script kiddies," he said.

The traffic statistics of this botnet, which Hutchins says he obtained from a number of affected ISPs, "ranged from 100 to 600 Gbps, with some attacks exceeding 200m pps. This botnet was no joke, it was the kind capable of knocking offline entire data centres".

He said that he had one day been informed that one of the bigger British banks had been hit by a DDoS and, on checking the bank's website, found that it was badly affected.

After a couple of days, Hutchins says he heard that the bank had been asked to pay a ransom. "There's now reports of real world consequences, such as people getting stuck abroad due to no access to online banking."

Guessing that the operator whom he had tracked down was probably behind the attack on the bank, Hutchins thought he would try asking the attacker "nicely" to stop. "He thinks about it, then agrees to block the domain from being attacked."

But the following day, Hutchins says he noticed more attacks against the same bank. When he asked the botnet operator, he says he was told that the customer, who ordered the DDoS and was paying top dollar for it, had got around the block by hitting another domain owned by the same bank.

Hutchins then explained to this person that the attacks could be traced back to his botnet, not to the customer. He says he also explained that UK banks were designated as critical infrastructure and, therefore, attacking them would be treated less as a criminal issue and more as one that pertained to national security.

"I then strongly suggest that unless he wants to have to deal with intelligence agencies coming after him, as well as law enforcement, that he completely cuts off whichever customer is launching these attacks. There were no attacks after that," Hutchins wrote.

"I wasn't actually surprised that he agreed to stop the attacks either time. In my career I've found few people are truly evil, most are just too far disconnected from the effects of their actions, until someone reconnects them.

"At the time I figured he'd probably already crossed the point of no return, and i imagine deep down he knew it too, but he still ceased the attacks. Unsurprisingly, less than a month later he was arrested by UK police (despite having operated as a cyber criminal for 8+ years)."

Hutchins is in Milwaukee in the US state of Wisconsin, awaiting trial on charges that he wrote and helped distribute a banking trojan known as Kronos.

He was arrested by the FBI in Las Vegas on 2 August 2017 after he had boarded a plane to leave the US after attending the annual DEFCON security conference.

The initial chargesheet against him said he had written and helped distribute a banking trojan Kronos along with an unnamed co-conspirator.

In his latest bid to get the charges dropped, Hutchins in July claimed that the US had no territorial jurisdiction to file charges against him for alleged crimes committed elsewhere.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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