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Flawed code throttled spread of Zotob variants

Some versions contained coding errors that sent PCs into a reboot loop, instead of working to spread the infection, experts say.

Havoc caused by variants of the Zotob worm could have been far worse had they not contained flaws, security companies say.

Chris Andrew, vice president of product management at PatchLink, said that coding errors caused a few variants of the worm to send computers into a reboot loop, which meant they spent very little time spreading the infection.

"If you read the vulnerability description in that exploit, it actually tells you that if you do it wrong it crashes the computer. If you do it right, then nobody can tell you have hacked the computer," Andrew said.


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He said companies that were hit by one of the flawed variants were "lucky" because it gave them more time to stop the infection taking hold.

"The people at were very upset that their computers crashed, but they were the lucky ones," Andrew said.

James Turner, security analyst at Frost & Sullivan Australia, agreed that the worm could easily have been worse--because the flawed variants gave administrators some warning that they were under attack.

"Your ultimate crime does not leave any traces. The minute a worm forces computers to do things that are abhorrent--like rebooting--it draws attention to itself," Turner said.

Allan Bell, marketing director for McAfee Asia-Pacific, said the versions that caused systems to crash--which McAfee has called IRCbot--are "often copy-and-paste jobs" created using source code distributed online.

PatchLink's Andrew agreed: "There are documented open-source materials available that show you how to do the hacks. It is hardly surprising that there are a whole bunch of (Zotob) variants."

American Express, Boeing and Holden are just some of companies with Australian locations that suffered from Zotob infections this week.

As part of its monthly patching cycle, Microsoft last week released a number of security updates, including the now infamous MS05-039, which fixed a critical vulnerability in Windows 2000.

Within days, exploit code was being distributed, and on Sunday the first Zotob worm was discovered in the wild.

Munir Kotadia of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.