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WireX botnet: How did it use infected Android apps?

To avoid a mobile device catastrophe, several large tech organizations came together to stop the WireX botnet. Learn how this Android botnet with 300 infected apps was stopped.

Multiple organizations worked together to take down an Android botnet called WireX. What was so bad about this...

botnet that so many large organizations were motivated to work together to stop it? How did they stop it?

WireX was recently taken down by a supergroup of collaborating researchers from Akamai Technologies, Cloudflare, Flashpoint, Google, Oracle, RiskIQ and Team Cymru. This group worked together to eliminate the threat of WireX and, in doing so, brought together opposing security vendors to work toward a common goal.

The WireX botnet was a growing menace, and it was taken down swiftly and collectively. We're starting to see this happen more often, and this was a great example of what the security community can do when information is shared.

The WireX botnet was an Android-based threat that consisted of over 300 different infected apps found in the Google Play Store. The botnet started ramping up application-based distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that were able to continually launch, even if the app wasn't in use.

The WireX botnet is assumed to have been created for use in click fraud to make money off of advertising fraud, but quickly seemed to move toward the DDoS route after it gained a large enough botnet. The WireX botnet itself is estimated at 70,000 endpoints, but some researchers think it might be larger. Due to the fluid nature of the mobile device endpoints, the IP addresses from these systems are likely to change as a user moves geographically.

The researchers were able to work together and share data on the attacks they were seeing and piece together their intelligence to get a complete story. By sharing details on a peculiar DDoS attack against a particular customer with this collective group, the teams were able to identify the source of the attack as malicious Android apps. After determining the source, they were then able to reverse engineer the apps, find the command-and-control servers, and remove them. The group worked with service providers to assist with cleaning the networks and with Google to remove the infected apps.

Security groups are now coming together more frequently to help defeat large attacks on the internet. Previously, we saw a very competitive industry -- and there are still some others that don't play nice – but, in general, it's encouraging to watch competitors team up and work together to stop attacks for the common good and not for a marketing scheme.

Security groups are now coming together more frequently to help defeat large attacks on the internet.

This has to do directly with the larger attacks, such as Mirai and NotPetya, which have recently attacked the internet on a global scale. Many of the same vendors that worked together on the WireX removal were also involved with teaming up on the Mirai and NotPetya attacks.

At this point, vendors are working together to protect themselves and their customers, since all botnets must be addressed; however, they are also working with each other because it allows for a clearer look into these threats and, thus, remediation is quickened.

We saw from the internet of things attacks with Mirai botnet just how devastating a DDoS attack can be on the internet, so when a similar Android botnet was ramping up on mobile devices, it was in everyone's best interest to act quickly. The lesson to remove a threat as a team before it reaches the strength of something like Mirai was learned and taken into consideration with the WireX botnet.

Next Steps

Read more on the Lazarus botnet attack

Learn about the threat of the Mirai botnet

Find out how shared app libraries can leak user data

This was last published in November 2017

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