What Is Mirai Malware and Who Is at Risk?

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There are countless strains of malware out there that pose a threat to us, our devices, and our personal information. One such kind of malware, known as Mirai, has already caused trouble for users around the world. But what exactly is Mirai, who does it target, and how can it be avoided?


What Is Mirai?

Mirai was first discovered in the latter half of 2016 by MalwareMustDie, a nonprofit whitehat cybersecurity organization.

In September 2016, Mirai was used to launch a large-scale DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on various online platforms, including Twitter, Reddit, and Spotify. Three individuals confessed to creating the Mirai botnet and admitted that they carried out the attack to disable other Minecraft servers, making it easier for them to make money via the well-known video game.

However, the men responsible for authoring and using the Mirai botnet had already seemingly released the code online. It is thought that this was done to conceal the true origin of Mirai, but also gave other cybercriminals access to an effective botnet.

Since 2016, Mirai has been used a number of times to carry out DDoS attacks. For instance, in early 2023, Mirai was found to be the culprit of a malicious campaign that targeted IoT devices and Linux-based servers. In this attack, a Mirai variant, dubbed “V3G4”, was used to exploit 13 security vulnerabilities to target servers and devices that were running the Linux distributions. Malware variations are commonplace, and often come equipped with new capabilities that can make things easier for the operator.

Mirai primarily attacks IoT (Internet of Things) devices. The term “IoT” refers to smart devices that can connect with each other to form a network. In short, an IoT device is one equipped with certain elements, such as sensors and software programs, which allow them to interconnect. IoT devices that run on Linux and use ARC (Argonaut RISC Core) processors are a prime target for Mirai.

So, how does this specific malware type attack devices, and what is the overall goal?

How Does Mirai Work?

Mirai falls under a category of malware known as a botnet. Botnets are networks of computers that work in tandem to carry out malicious actions. Mirai infects targeted devices, adding them to the botnet, and using their processing power to achieve their goal. When a device is infected, it becomes a “zombie” and will do what the malicious operator demands.

The key goal of Mirai botnets is to conduct DDoS attacks on targeted websites. A DDoS attack involves flooding a website with traffic to overload servers and cause a crash, making it temporarily unavailable to users. Many previous DDoS attacks have caused a lot of damage, with examples including the Amazon Web Services (AWS) attack of 2020 and the GitHub attack of 2018. In the biggest DDoS attacks, traffic can come in at such an overwhelming rate that websites are disrupted for days or even weeks.

Numerous devices are required to send traffic packets to a website and successfully carry out a DDoS attack. This is where botnets can come in handy for malicious operators.

Of course, a cybercriminal can technically buy a large number of machines and use them to carry out a DDoS attack, but such a venture would be incredibly expensive and time-consuming. So, these individuals instead choose to infect unsuspecting victims’ devices with malware that can add them to a botnet. The larger the botnet (i.e the more zombie devices that are added), the more severely a website can be flooded with traffic.

Mirai starts the infection process by sifting through IP addresses to find Linux-based devices running on ARC processors, the malware’s prime target. When an appropriate device is identified, the malware will look for and exploit any security flaws present on the device. Mirai can then infect the IoT device in question if the username and password used for access have not been changed. Now, Mirai can add the device to the botnet as part of the impending DDoS attack.

It isn’t always easy to tell if your computer has been infected with botnet malware, which can make detection a challenge. So, what can you do to identify and avoid Mirai?

How to Avoid Mirai Malware

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Though Mirai has seen success in cyberattacks in the past, there are things you can do to both avoid and detect this dangerous botnet.

The signs that indicate botnet infection include frequent crashes and shutdowns, a slow internet connection, and overheating. It’s important to be aware of these tell-tale botnet signs so that you don’t let this kind of malware fly under the radar on your device.

When it comes to avoiding botnet malware, your first line of defense should always be a trusted antivirus program. Antivirus software continually scans your device for suspicious files and code, which are then quarantined and deleted if deemed a threat. Most legitimate antivirus providers come at a fee, which may seem frustrating, but the protection you receive in exchange for your cash can prove invaluable.

You should also ensure that you are frequently updating your application software and operating system to iron out any security flaws. Security vulnerabilities are common in software programs and are often exploited by cybercriminals to launch attacks. Software updates can help in patching these flaws and can therefore safeguard you from certain malicious campaigns.

Mirai scans IoT devices for security vulnerabilities during the infection process, and the chance of having such weaknesses increases if you do not update your software regularly. You can schedule automatic updates for your operating system and apps, or simply check them frequently to see if an update is due.

There are also botnet solutions that you can install to further protect you from this kind of malware. These programs can detect and tackle botnet infection, and protect websites from falling victim to DDoS attacks.

Mirai Poses a Big Risk to IoT Devices

With billions of IoT devices around the world today, botnet malware programs like Mirai pose a concerning threat. With such tools, cybercriminals can create expansive botnets to take down major online platforms, which can cause a lot of inconvenience and even financial losses. It’s important to protect your devices in any way you can to ensure that you don’t become part of a Mirai botnet.

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