Storm Worm && Botnet Analysis


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Recently, a new Worm/Trojan has been very "popular" in our Net world. This worm uses email and various phishing Web sites to spread and infect computers. When the worm breaks into the system, it installs a kernel driver to protect itself. With the help of the driver, it then injects and runs malicious code from the legitimate process "services.exe". So, it can bypass firewalls easily and open a back door for the bad guys.

This worm contains an SMTP client engine and a peer-to-peer client component. Obviously, these components are prepared for spamming or mass-mailing purposes.

During my research, I found that this worm used various rootkit techniques to protect itself (such as hiding files, registers, ports, and the like), so it's not easily detected and removed. The worm also used a custom packer and encryption to protect itself. In the driver that the worm dropped, we learned that it employs a user-mode APC to inject malicious code (embedded) into the process named "services.exe".

In this paper, I will explain the worm from three aspects:

1. The interesting things that reside in its executable file (custom packer and encryption)

2. Rootkit techniques it uses

3. Peer-to-peer botnet & spamming

Okay, lets start our journey.


When this worm is running, it unpacks itself first, and then drops a malicious PE file that is embedded in the executable file. Then, it decrypts the malicious PE file into heap memory. When these steps are complete, the worm jumps to the heap memory (containing the malicious PE file) and executes the decrypted malicious code. This is the code that is responsible for the bad behavior.

Figure 1 is a high-level view of this worm's activities:


Figure 1. Overview of the worm

Next, I will explain how this worm accomplishes all of this, step by step.

Analysis sequence

The worm uses a custom packer and encryption to protect its binary file, so the first step it takes is to unpack and decrypt the embedded PE file.

In this section, I will demonstrate how to use OllyDbg and IDA Pro to analyze the worm.

Dynamic Analysis

First, I use OllyDbg to debug the worm and try to dump the unpacked file.

Stage 1 – Getting Start


Figure 2. Main Routine of the Worm

Notice that Figure 2 shows the main routine of the worm. It exports two functions: plr and wsx . The plr function is used to unpack worm-self, and wsx is the real entry point.

The plr function is passed to wsx as a parameter. This function implements the custom packer used by the worm.

Stage 2 – Unpack


Figure 3. Calling Unpack Routine – plr

After the execution path reaches the wsx function, the first thing it does is to unpack the data section, which contains the code that will be executed further.

Figure 4 shows the packed data section.


Figure 4. Packed Code

From Figure 4 we can see that this code does not have any actual functions and is used only to obscure its purpose.

The figure below shows the same data section after it has been unpacked:


Figure 5. Unpacked Code

Well, it looks very nice. At this moment, we can dump the memory to a file and do a static analysis (using IDA Pro or other tools). This is my favorite way, but we can continue debugging this worm by OllyDbg and watch what it does next.

In the next section, I will use the IDA Pro tool to continue exploring the worm.

Static Analysis

I am very grateful for IDA Pro, which is an amazing tool. With its help, we can search every corner of the malware.

Stage 1 – Decrypt & Decompress in heap memory

During the analysis, I found a TEA constant – 0x9E3779B<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />9 in the unpacked file, and after a short analysis I was sure that this worm uses a TEA algorithm to encrypt the embedded malicious PE file.


Figure 6. TEA Algorithm

Entire Decrypt & Decompress Routine:


Figure 7. Decrypt & Decompress in Heap memory

Stage 2 – Jump to Heap Memory

From here, the worm has already expanded its payload (the malicious PE file) to heap memory, and the last thing it does is to fix IAT and handle relocation.


Figure 8. Fix IAT & Relocation

Assuming everything is okay, the worm jumps to the heap memory to execute the malicious PE file. From that point forward, the worm can start breaking in to the system.


Figure 9. Jump to Heap to execute

Please compare Figure 9 with Figure 5, and note that they are the same. At this point, the execution path expands to heap memory, and in there, the worm accomplishes its evil task.

Stage 3 – Drop a driver & Start Services

The main purpose of the malicious PE file residing in the heap memory is to drop a driver and a P2P configuration file, and to start a Win32 service to load its driver.

Drop the driver:


Figure 10. Release Driver

This driver contains another malicious PE file that has been encrypted. Well, this worm carried so many PE files; what a hard worker. In the next section, I will show the technique the worm uses to inject this PE file into a system process from its driver.

 Drop the P2P configuration file:


Figure 11. Release Configuration File

Contents of this configuration file:


The worm reads other bots' information from this configuration file, and then uses this information to contact its brothers residing in the botnet.

Start a Win32 service to load its driver


Figure 12. Install Service

Now the worm has broken into the system. Next, I will investigate the heavy weapon that this worm uses to protect itself and bypass the firewall. This weapon is built from rootkit techniques, so in the next section we will dive deep into the Windows kernel.

The heavy weapon – Driver (rootkit technique)


Figure 13. The workflow of the worm's driver


As we saw earlier, this worm drops two files: a driver named “glok +<random_id >.sys” and a peer-to-peer configuration file named “glok+serv.config ”. In the end, the worm starts a Win32 service to load its driver.

Normally, it is difficult to find these sorts of malicious behaviors, but by intercepting the API call, we locate them with ease.

API Calling


Figure 14. API Call

Win32 Service


Figure 15. Register Changes

Worm's rootkit functionality

The worm uses its driver to achieve the goals below:

1. Hide File(Avoid being deleted)

2. Hide TCP Port (Bypass the firewall)

3. Hide Win32 Service(Avoid being detected)

4. Inject Code to “services.exe”(Smart because it can easily bypass the ring3 detector)

1. Hide file or directory

This worm hooks the native API named “NtQueryDirectoryFile ”, so the worm can hide the file or directory whose name contains the string “glok +”. Do you remember the name of its driver that I mentioned earlier? Yes, the name of the driver is “glok +<random_id >.sys”; it contains the string – “glok +”.

Code slice – Hook NtQueryDirectoryFile :


Figure 16. Filter in NtQueryDirectoryFile

2. Hide Win32 Service

As we know, using the Win32 service to load the kernel driver will leave some footprint in the register. So the worm hooks two register-related native APIs named “NtEnumerateKey ” and “NtEnumerateValueKey ”; through them the worm can erase its footprint.

Code slice – Hook NtEnumerateKey :


Figure 17. Filter in NtEnumerateKey

Code slice – Hook NtEnumerateValueKey :


Figure 18. Filter in NtEnumerateValueKey

3. Hide TCP Por

This worm will send spam and connect to other bots that are in the botnet, so it must obscure network-related things from everyone's eyes.

In the kernel, the worm searches the TCP device (Device/Tcp ) and inline hooks its dispatch function. When people try to query the network information, the worm hides itself from the result of the query.

Inline hook TCP DeviceIoContorl functions:


Set up a completion routine for each Irps


Code Slice - HidePort:


4. Inject malicious PE to“services.exe”

This worm does not use the normal way to inject the malicious code to other processes, such as through “CreateRemoteThread ”. Instead, it does this from the kernel through a user-mode APC. In the injected code, the worm uses some shellcode techniques to locate the base address of kernel32.dll and do API searching by itself.

The detailed steps are shown in Figure 13.

Code slice: Using user-mode APC


Running in “services.exe”

As mentioned earlier, the injected code is responsible for initializing the bot and joining the botnet.

Locating kernel32 && Searching APIs – often used by shellcode


Start main thread


  The super weapon – P2P-based botnet


In recent years, P2P technology has been used frequently in worms and has become more and more popular. The P2P-based botnet is very hard to trace and to shut down, because the botnet has robust network connectivity, uses encryption, and controls traffic dispersion. Each bot influences only a small part of the botnet, and upgrade/recovery is accomplished easily by its botmaster .

The botnet this worm constructed is a decentralized architecture, not like the traditional peer-to-peer system. This kind of botnet does not need a central command and control location; it can allow the attacker to upgrade/control infected hosts without the botmaster .


This worm implements a distributed hash table based on the Kademlia algorithm and assigns a random 128bit ID to each bot. The format of the information is similar to this:



1. Using the system time as a random seed.

2. Depending on the timing seed to generate the 128bit botID

3. Randomly picking up the IP/UDP Port from a static array that was carried by itself

4. Keeping a part of the bot information in the configuration file.

You can find these BotID from the P2P configuration file named “glok+serv.config ” that is dropped by this worm. The contents of this file were described earlier.

An example of how to translate the BotID that is saved in glok+serv.config


Botnet Communication Analysis

Protocol Analysis

For analyzing this worm's peer-to-peer and spamming functionality, I captured the packets from an infected computer. The statistics of the captured packets look like this:

Protocol Hierarchy Statistics


From the statistics, we find that the main protocol this worm uses is UDP protocol; the worm also uses SMTP protocol to send spam.

Protocol Port Type


Botnet Traffic Map



Depending on the built-in SMTP client, the worm can send spam through many free SMTP servers.

TCP Connection with SMTP Server


When the worm is connected to other bots, it can get the latest instructions/upgrades, then download and run any files. During the analysis, I found that the worm could exchange the list of SMTP servers with other bots. The contents of spam and adware are also exchanged from its brothers.

The figure below shows the worm trying to connect to Google's SMTP server:


Well, it looks as if Google has improved the security of its SMTP server; the worm failed to connect to it.

This is another SMTP server this worm is trying to connect with:


Send Spam –Through Google's SMTP Server


Send Spam – Through the“” SMTP Server


Some examples of spam sent by this worm:


Another one:


Last one:


Interacting with other bots

I kept running this worm in a test environment and collected the packets it sent. By analyzing the captured packets, I found that this worm interacted with more than 5796 infected hosts only in 21 minutes! This evidence proves that the worm has already set up a large botnet!

To protect its botnet, the worm does not carry the entire list of bots, so that it can avoid exposing the entire botnet from a single bot . It uses an XOR encryption algorithm to encrypt traffic, and randomly assigns the UDP port for each bot, to improve the traffic dispersion. All of these methods highly enhance the security of the botnet.

UDP-based bots conversation


The conversation list is huge; the figure above shows only part of it. Each remote host in this list is infected. The total number of bots I observed is 5746!

UDP PortDistribution


Bot IP Distribution


Encryption of Network traffic between bots

This worm uses a special XOR algorithm to encrypt/decrypt the network traffic. Using this, the worm can avoid researchers who use network analyzers to study it.

Code Slice - Encrypt/Decrypt UDP packet


 C Code - Encrypt/Decrypt algorithm


This encryption algorithm is very simple, but good enough for bypassing IDS or IPS.

Botnet Message

Well, to work against this botnet, I wrote a tool to observe the traffic and analyze the messages between the bots.

Example: Searching other bots


Example: Reply message


Example: Exchange bot-list


The huge botnet



And that's all. From analyzing this worm, we notice that current malware looks more and more like business software. Malicious footprints are less obvious today than those of malware ancestors. The traditional signature-based scan technology can barely detect today's bad stuff. So this is a challenge for all of us.

The purpose of most current malware is economic. The malicious author can derive financial benefit from the spreading of the malware.

From the technology viewpoint, we find that some malware combines more than one malicious technique, and thus it has become more powerful. Is this a new stage in the evolution of malware?

Future Work

As we saw, peer-to-peer botnets are more powerful and more efficient than traditional malware. I think the follow-on work will include a way of tracing peer-to-peer botnets and simulating their results, to better study their resiliency.


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