Researchers simulate a botnet of 1 million zombies

By Angela Moscaritolo

June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 31, 2009 at 12:32 PM EDT

Computer scientists working for the U.S. Department of Energy announced this week that they have been able to create a simulated botnet consisting of more than one million machines. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in California, headed by Ron Minnich and Don Rudish, were able to run more than one million kernels, or the central component of most operating systems, as virtual machines in a massive botnet simulation. Previously, researches had only been able to create a simulated botnet of up to 20,000 nodes.The task of analyzing botnets is difficult since infected computers are distributed all over the world, researchers said.“The more kernels that can be run at once, the more effective cybersecurity professionals can be in combating the global botnet problem,” Minnich said in a statement.Researchers used Linux kernels for the simulation. To achieve the virtual botnet, scientists used virtual machine (VM) technology, emulating real machines in software, and a powerful supercomputing cluster at Sandia called Thunderbird. Essentially, they were able to spin up a million VMs on the one supercomputer. And now that researchers have established a simulated botnet of one million, they are setting their sights on loftier goals. “Eventually, we would like to be able to emulate the computer network of a small nation, or even one as large as the United States, in order to ‘virtualize' and monitor a cyberattack,” Minnich said.If their next goal is met, researchers should be able to better understand and analyze the internet by constructing models of parts of it, they said.

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