Specimen Box

giving voice to vast criminal bot networks

Date: Spring 2014
For: Microsoft

You might not personally be in the business of identity theft, spam delivery, or distributed hacking, but there’s a decent chance that your computer is. “Botnets” are criminal networks of computers that, unbeknownst to their owners, are being put to use for any number of nefarious purposes. Across the globe, millions of PCs have been infected with software that conscripts them into one of these networks, silently transforming these machines into accomplices in illegal activities and putting their users’ information at risk.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit has been tracking and neutralizing these threats for several years. In January 2014, DCU asked The Office for Creative Research to explore novel ways to visualize botnet activity. The result is Specimen Box, a prototype exploratory tool that allows DCU’s investigators to examine the unique profiles of various botnets, focusing on the geographic and time-based communication patterns of millions of infected machines.

Specimen Box enables investigators to study a botnet the way a naturalist might examine a specimen collected in the wild: What are its unique characteristics? How does it behave? How does it propagate itself? How is it adapting to a changing environment?