FBI warns of Valentine's Day 'Storm'

The Valentine's Day campaign that the bot-building Storm Trojan has been running for weeks is running at such volume that even the FBI issued a warning Tuesday.

"With the holiday approaching, be on the lookout for spam e-mails spreading the Storm Worm malicious software," the FBI said in an alert posted to the home page of its Web site Wednesday. "The Storm Worm virus has capitalized on various holidays in the last year by sending millions of e-mails advertising an e-card link within the text of the spam e-mail. Valentine's Day has been identified as the next target."

Actually, the FBI was way behind the ball. For several weeks, security vendors have been predicting that Storm would again use tomorrow's big day to dupe users into opening attachments or clicking links.

A month ago, for example, Sophos noted that Storm's spam blasts -- messages with subject heads like "You're the One" and "Falling in Love with You" -- were already accounting for 1 in every 12 e-mails counted by the company's filters. The messages included an IP-address-only link that led, said Sophos senior security analyst Mike Haro, to any of several already-compromised computers in the Storm botnet. Those PCs, of course, tried to infect visiting machines with an up-to-date copy of the Trojan, which in turn added them to the malware's army.

This is the second year running that Storm has exploited Valentine's Day. Last year, the botnet Trojan was relatively new -- it made its first splash the month before -- and researchers have long expected its author or authors to return to the holiday in 2008. In mid-January, for instance, Jamz Yaneza, research project manager at Trend Micro Inc., said early versions of 2008's run showed that the Trojan's makers had learned from the malware's past.

"This year's version looks like a stripped-down version of last year's," he said in an interview last month about Storm's one-year anniversary. "They've optimized the way [the bot's delivered] over the past months," he said, citing an example of how this year's Valentine's campaign would differ from 2007's. "They've learned that there's no need to add an attachment."

That's exactly how things have played out in the days leading to Feb. 14.

Trend Micro David Sancho spelled it out in a post to the company's blog on Monday. "The spammed e-mail messages are just plain text, but contain links that lead to malicious Web sites displaying one of eight cute Valentine images," Sancho said. His post cycled through the images Trend Micro captured from the malware-serving sites.

"If you run the executable named 'valentine.exe,' your system will join the Storm botnet to start spamming other Internet users," Sancho concluded. "Not very loving of them."

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