The word from Symantec is that supporters of the world's most famous, if loosely organized, hacker group got hacked themselves. The word from the alleged victim, Anonymous, is a ferocious denial that it ever happened.
So, were Anonymous supporters really duped into installing the Zeus botnet that steals their confidential information, including email login information, banking user names and passwords?
Yes, according to Symantec, which reported late last month that an unknown hacker modified a link to "Slowloris," a popular Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack tool, which then directed users to a Zeus bot Trojan instead.
The company said the hack against Anonymous took place Jan. 20, the day Megaupload co-founder Kim Dotcom and three others were arrested, and the day after Anonymous attacked websites operated by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
The Anonymous attacks were reported to be in retaliation for the arrests, in which the four were charged with copyright infringement, money laundering and racketeering.
Symantec said the hackers modified a message on PasteBin, which took users to a Trojanized version of Slowloris. The compromised download then replaced itself with a clean version of the tool to avoid detection.
The Zeus Trojan collects information and sends it to a command-and-control server that can also force infected machines to participate in additional DDoS attacks without the user's direct permission.
Symantec said the malicious link has since been removed from the guides in question, but that through mid-February, there had been more than 26,000 views of the PasteBin message and more than 400 tweets that referred to its URL.
Not according to Anonymous, which posted two tweets last Friday saying, "This post from @Symantec about @YourAnonNews's spreading the DDOS hijacking trojan is wrong & libelous to say the least," and "Dear @Symantec - @YourAnonNews NEVER posted the DDOS hijacker nor did we attempt to trick people; instead we WARNED of it."
Paul Wallis, a Sydney journalist writing in Digital Journal earlier this week, thinks Anonymous has the better argument.
"This (the modified Slowloris) isn't very high-level stuff for code writers," he says, adding that, "if one file can disrupt a DDoS attack, why are DDoS attacks a plague around the world on a daily basis?"
Kevin McAleavey, cofounder of the KNOS Project, says he found the malicious link, and agrees in part with Wallis. He believes that the more sophisticated members of Anonymous would not fall for it.
But, he suspects there are plenty who would. "I've always maintained that Anonymous consists of a few slick coders and a cast of thousands of morons," McAleavey says. "And it is out there, so Symantec's claim that there are bogus pastebins pointing to it is confirmed." He adds that the malicious link, "was detected by only 31 of 43 antivirus programs."
But Wallis says the back-and-forth between Symantec and Anonymous misses a much larger point, that "a new beast is loose on the Internet."
"The fact is that Symantec, intentionally or otherwise, has posted a "How To" for malware operators in terms of pirating practically anything and installing malware into any feed of this type, whether by Anonymous or your friendly local spam bit torrent company. This is not good news for anyone."