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21 Dec 2004

Santy internet worm attacks web bulletin boards, Sophos reports

Thousands of websites are hit as web worm exploits security vulnerability and overwrites files

Anti-virus experts at Sophos, a world leader in protecting businesses against viruses and spam, have advised that a new internet worm is defacing web bulletin boards across the globe.

Defaced website
The Santy worm has defaced many web bulletin boards.

The Perl/Santy-A worm (also known as Santy) exploits a vulnerability in a piece of software often used to provide discussion forums and bulletin boards on the web, phpBB. The worm uses the Google search engine to try and find vulnerable bulletin boards on the web. According to media reports, Google has started blocking the worm's attempts to replicate.

The Santy worm, which is written in Perl, spreads to vulnerable phpBB bulletin boards on both Windows-based and Unix-based platforms. Once the worm has spread to three or more servers it will attempt to overwrite all HTM*, PHP*, ASP*, SHTM*, JSP* and PHTM* files with a web page containing the following message:

This site is defaced!!!
NeverEverNoSanity WebWorm generation #
where # is a number which increases by one on each iteration of the worm.

"The good news is that this worm only affects web servers, not users who visit any of these bulletin boards," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "There have been serious security vulnerabilities found in the phpBB software in the past - and this incident underlines the importance of all people keeping up-to-date with the latest security patches and fixes."

With the Santy worm released on 21 December, Sophos experts believe that it is possible the worm's distribution has been deliberately timed to coincide with the holiday season.

"Can it really be coincidence that a worm which attacks web bulletin boards is released just as many companies and organisations who run such messageboards are shutting down for Christmas?" said Cluley. "Many webmasters will be going home early for the holidays - and it's likely this worm will have a greater impact simply because the people who need to be at their desks to fix the problem, are relaxing in front of the fire."

Webmasters who run the phpBB software are advised to upgrade to the most recent version of the software at the earliest possible opportunity. Version 2.0.11 of phpBB is believed not to be vulnerable to the worm's method of attack.

"With millions of websites around the world running the phpBB software it is essential that the message gets out to its users that they must take security seriously - and keep up-to-date with information about the latest discovered exploits," continued Cluley.

In June 2004 another worm, W32/MyDoom-O, disrupted the Google search engine after it tried to use the popular website in an attempt to spread further.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at