How much cost malware production? Which are the processes for the production of virus? (Part.1)

Pierluigi Paganini November 25, 2011

It is clear that the question awaits an answer deterministic, but an assessment of the main factors that influence the “final expense”. My idea is to understand what is the magnitude of the phenomenon and the costs related to a not necessarily familiar audience .  The goal is to raise awareness in the process of developing malware, and its costs.

  • What is the purpose of the malware and how it affects the final cost? Is there a direct relationship between cost and purpose?
  • Is there a relationship between the cost and the vulnerability that we intend to exploit?
  • Some vulnerabilities are more easily exploitable while others are in day 0 and therefore carry a greater burden of realization against a greater chance of success.
  • What is the malicious agent distribution channel that will be used and what is the expected speed of propagation which has as its goal.
  • Which is the relationship between the commitment (government, criminals and hackers) and the costs.

These are just few questions that we should ask ourselves approaching the topic.

The purpose surely influence the final cost and it is directly proportional to the effort required to identify vulnerabilities and analysis of target systems.

A zero-day attack is an attack that try to exploit computer application vulnerabilities that are unknown to others or to the developers.  Obviously finding a vulnerability of this type the success is guarantee of success and certainly has a different cost from that is related to the exploit of a well-documented vulnerabilities for which a lot materia is available in the literature.

The time factor is crucial for the eradication of virus. The spread should be to tight deadlines and in massive form.

The distribution channel and the target are certainly crucial in the design phase of the malware. If the goal is a pandemic, it will seek to computer systems with a general circulation, such as Microsoft. If the intent is to exploit the mobile channel then probably u iPhone OS and Android OS systems will be under attack with obvious implications in the design phase.

Just the design is the distinctive element of a malware. The greater its ability to change more effective will be its offense. How to implement these features? Basically implementing  polymorphic malware that are able to avoid most of anrivirus, or developing the agent in a scalar mode. In this case the malware will be composed by several components that modulate its behavior.

Final behaviour of the virus is the result of different modules, each with particular characteristics and built for a specific target.

Onother important feature to qualify malware and related costs is the entity that commits investment for the production of malware. If there is a government commitment it is inclined to think the development of a “cyber weapon” whose cost is the result of business intelligence, analysis, research … so very high costs.  Instead the criminal organizzations are similar to software factory, the latter sometimes better organized and more effective management of economic resources toward these goals. The basin from which it takes, is a IT underground of East Area, often with the financial resources to the east in the game is able to offer an offering worthy of the best centers of development.  Finally, there are hacker communities, with very different goals that develop at a lower cost and with no means ignoble purposes ..In this case, the value added is the knowledge of professionals that compete in their own egos.

For the first two cases there are malware factory who develop malware to order and manage them like any other real IT project.

Let’s start analyzing some data to have a idea of the huge quantity of money invested, in this specific case in military scenarios:

  • US Annual military spending: $708 Billion
  • US Cyber Command: $105 Million
  • North Korea military spending: $5 Billion
  • North Korean cyber warfare spending: $56 Million
  • Iran cyber warfare spending: $76 Million

Which are the main aspects of cyberwarfare?

  • Collect intelligence
  • Control systems
  • Deny or disable systems
  • Cause harm on the level of “kinetic” attacks

In military scenarios the target is to dominate cyberspace, infiltrate key systems in and  relying on research and intelligence gathering, using known exploits when possible, 0-days when necessary. In cyber crime scenario  the target is to conquer a specific target, corrupting the systems with the specific intent to acquire high priviledges to collect, to steal, alter or destroy control system or enterprise system for business purpose. Make money is the primary needs!

Imagining to desire to compose a team for the development of malware, which professional figures will be needed?

  • Vulnerability Analysts
  • exploit developers
  • Bot collector
  • Bot maintainers Operators
  • Remote personnel
  • Developers
  • Testers
  • Technical consultants
  • Managers
  • Sys admins

All this resources have  cost that could be really expensive related to the project objective and the total duration of the development. Next Time if you desire we can develope an exercize together trying to give a value for each resource ad defining the project duration and the phases that compose them.

That is just the beginning …

to be continued … with your contribution

Pierluigi Paganini

Let me say thank you to two great security specialists that have supported my research with their personal experience and sharing of precious and rare information.  

Niels Groeneveld (Threat Analyst at Royal Dutch Shell)

Charlie Miller (Computer security researcher)

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