"Millions of IPs remain infected by USB worm years after its creators left it for dead"

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Oct 13, 2020
Steve often talks about "internet background radiation." This appears to be on of those stories.


A now-abandoned USB worm that backdoors connected devices has continued to self-replicate for years since its creators lost control of it and remains active on thousands, possibly millions, of machines, researchers said Thursday.

The worm—which first came to light in a 2023 post published by security firm Sophos—became active in 2019 when a variant of malware known as PlugX added functionality that allowed it to infect USB drives automatically. In turn, those drives would infect any new machine they connected to, a capability that allowed the malware to spread without requiring any end-user interaction. Researchers who have tracked PlugX since at least 2008 have said that the malware has origins in China and has been used by various groups tied to the country’s Ministry of State Security.

Still active after all these years​

For reasons that aren’t clear, the worm creator abandoned the one and only IP address that was designated as its command-and-control channel. With no one controlling the infected machines anymore, the PlugX worm was effectively dead, or at least one might have presumed so. The worm, it turns out, has continued to live on in an undetermined number of machines that possibly reaches into the millions, researchers from security firm Sekoia reported.

One explanation is that most of the biggest concentrations are in countries that have coastlines where China’s government has significant investments in infrastructure. Additionally many of the most affected countries have strategic importance to Chinese military objectives. The researchers speculated that the purpose of the campaign was to collect intelligence the Chinese government could use to achieve those objectives.