Microsoft announced legal action Monday seeking to disrupt a major cybercrime digital network that uses more than 1 million zombie computers to loot bank accounts and spread ransomware, which experts consider a major threat to the U.S. presidential election.
The operation to knock offline command-and-control servers for a global botnet that uses an infrastructure known as Trickbot to infect computers with malware was initiated with a court order Microsoft obtained in Virginia federal court on Oct. 6. Microsoft argued that the crime network is abusing its trademark.
“It is very hard to tell how effective it will be but we are confident it will have a very long-lasting effect,” said Jean-Ian Boutin, head of threat research at ESET, one of several cybersecurity firms that partnered with Microsoft to map the command-and-control servers. “We’re sure that they are going to notice and it will be hard for them to get back to the state that the botnet was in.”
Cybersecurity experts said that while Microsoft’s use of a U.S. court order to persuade internet providers to take down the botnet servers is laudable, it’s not apt to be successful because too many won’t comply.
Paul Vixie of Farsight Security said via email “experience tells me it won’t scale — there are too many IP’s behind uncooperative national borders.”
The announcement follows a Washington Post report Friday of a major — but ultimately unsuccessful — effort by U.S. Cyber Command to dismantle Trickbot beginning last month with direct attacks rather than asking online services to deny hosting to domains used by command-and-control servers.
A U.S. policy called “persistent engagement” authorizes U.S. cyberwarriors to engage hostile hackers in cyberspace and disrupt their operations with code, something Cybercom did against Russian misinformation jockeys during U.S. midterm elections in 2018.
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