Botnets are one of the main engines of cyber attacks and are used to distribute malware and ransomware. Dark web forums now offer courses on how to make money from them.
Computers and devices infected with a cybercriminal-controlled botnet can be used to send phishing or malware emails to even more devices. It is common for botnet operators to lease their collection of controlled machines to other cybercriminals.
For example, the TrickBot malware embeds compromised devices in a botnet, allowing an attacker to access them through a back door. This access is often sold to cybercriminals who can then use it to implement ransomware, using this access to encrypt files and demand a ransom payment. Many botnets are used to steal logins and passwords, while others exploit the machines they control and hire them to launch DDoS attacks in order to overwhelm websites with traffic and bring them down.
So botnet operators can make huge sums of money, and now there are dark web operators offering online courses to train others in botnet use, and they function like their legitimate counterparts teaching cybersecurity and other skills in online courses.
Cybersecurity researchers at Recorded Future analyzed the activity of a botnet school on a major underground forum and found that these courses are in high demand.
“It’s like you’re in college,” Danny Panton, an analyst at Recorded Future, told . “You will have a manager and he will teach you virtually, without a camera, but he has access to a platform and he is taught principles about what you should do to exploit botnets against potential victims.”
Among the people who teach these courses are people who manage large botnets on their own. The courses aren’t cheap, costing more than $ 1,400, but they promise to provide even novice cybercriminals with knowledge on how to build, maintain, and monetize botnets.
“Cybercrime trainees have all skill levels. There may be people who are seasoned cybercrime scammers, but are not really familiar with using botnets,” Panton explained. “Then there are people who are completely new to cybercrime and who are just curious and want to be more experienced and increase their skills,” he added.
Given the nature of the cybercrime world, some may fear being scammed and receive nothing in return if they donate money to attend the course. But this service seems legitimate and the course is subject to many reviews, suggesting that the school actually delivers what it claims. If it was a scam, it wouldn’t have lasted that long.
The researchers do not have data on how many would-be cybercriminals took the course in total, but during the analysis period for this activity, the number of people taking the courses at any given time may have varied; sometimes only five people, sometimes up to 100.
The course covers topics such as how to operate a botnet network in such a way as to avoid the attention of law enforcement agencies, because, as the Emotet takedown demonstrated, the authorities attack botnets as soon as possible.
The researchers caution that the existence of these courses is likely to lead to an increase in the threat of botnets, although it is difficult to quantify the magnitude of this increase without being able to trace the activity of individual users.
“It is highly likely that through these courses more malicious actors will become proficient in botnet-targeting attacks,” Panton said.
Botnets are still a major threat to computer networks, but steps can be taken to avoid falling victim to them. These include ensuring that networks are up to date with the latest security patches, ensuring that manufacturer’s default passwords are not used, and ensuring that Internet ports that are not required for device operation are closed.
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