NEWS FROM THE LAB - Thursday, December 8, 2005

How Sober activates Posted by Mikko @ 16:02 GMT

First Sober variant was found in October 2003. Since then, we've found over 20 different variants.

Most of these variants contain a routine that activates the virus at later date. After this the virus will try to periodically download and run a file from several websites. This is the way most new Sober variants are distributed: the author uploads a new version and all the infected machines will suddenly get infected with the new variant.

Virus statistics

Sober.Y was the biggest email outbreak of the year. It still is responsbile for around 40% of all the infections we see. This variant is programmed to activate on January 6th, 2006. After this date all the infected machines will regularily try to download and run a file from a website, forever. The virus even synchronizes the machines via atom clocks so the activation will not happen before January 6th, even if the clock of the computer is incorrect.

So, what URL is the virus using? This is the tricky part. The virus writer knows well that if he uses a single, constant address in the virus body, it will get blocked quickly. So instead, Sober has been using an algorithm to create pseudorandom URLs which will change based on date. These URLs point to free hosting servers typically operating in Germany or in Austria. And 99% of the URLs generated by the virus simply don't exist.

However, the virus author can precalculate the URL for any date, and when he wants to run something on all the infected machines, he just registers the right URL, uploads his program and BANG! It's run globally in hundreds of thousands of machines.

The Sober virus author can precalculate the URLs. We wanted to be able to do the same thing. So we cracked the algorithm. This enabled us to calculate the download URLs for any future date. In fact, we did this already in May 2005, and we informed the local police in Germany as well as the affected ISPs. But we didn't want to talk about it publically then - we didn't want to fill in the virus writer on this. But he must know this by now.

So what do these pseudorandom URLs look like?

Sober.Y listThey look like this. These are the download sites Sober.Y will start using after 5th of January. We're leaving out the filename of the actual executable, but this should be good enough list of addresses you might want to block at your corporate firewall, if you're a system administrator:


Right now, none of these URLs exist. If they are to be used, the virus writer will register them just before the activation.

However, the list will change every 14 days. After 19th of January the list becomes:


Last thing: Several earlier Sober variants (most notably Sober.Q) have been sending out neonazi propaganda messages. According to iDefense, the activation date of January 5th is an anniversary date for the nazi party.

UPDATE: More on Sober activation dates from Joe Stewart at LURHQ.

ERRATA: The original entry contained errors in the URL lists. They should be accurate now. Also, the activation date is not the 5th of January, but day after that.