D-LNBot: A Scalable, Cost-Free and Covert Hybrid Botnet on Bitcoin's Lightning Network Article

Kurt, A, Erdin, E, Akkaya, K et al. (2023). D-LNBot: A Scalable, Cost-Free and Covert Hybrid Botnet on Bitcoin's Lightning Network . IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON DEPENDABLE AND SECURE COMPUTING, 10.1109/TDSC.2023.3300738

cited authors

  • Kurt, A; Erdin, E; Akkaya, K; Uluagac, S; Cebe, M


  • While various covert botnets were proposed in the past, they still lack complete anonymization for their servers/botmasters or suffer from slow communication between the botmaster and the bots. In this paper, we first propose a new generation hybrid botnet that covertly and efficiently communicates over Bitcoin Lightning Network (LN), called LNBot. Exploiting various anonymity features of LN, we show the feasibility of a scalable two-layer botnet which completely anonymizes the identity of the botmaster. In the first layer, the botmaster anonymously sends the commands to the command and control (C&C) servers through regular LN payments. Specifically, LNBot allows botmaster's commands to be sent in the form of surreptitious multi-hop LN payments, where the commands are either encoded with the payments or attached to the payments to provide covert communications. In the second layer, C&C servers further relay those commands to the bots in their mini-botnets to launch any type of attacks to victim machines. We further improve on this design by introducing D-LNBot; a distributed version of LNBot that generates its C&C servers by infecting users on the Internet and forms the C&C connections by opening channels to the existing nodes on LN. In contrary to the LNBot, the whole botnet formation phase is distributed and the botmaster is never involved in the process. By utilizing Bitcoin's Testnet and the new message attachment feature of LN, we show that D-LNBot can be run for free and commands are propagated faster to all the C&C servers compared to LNBot. We presented proof-of-concept implementations for both LNBot and D-LNBot on the actual LN and extensively analyzed their delay and cost performance. Finally, we also provide and discuss a list of potential countermeasures to detect LNBot and D-LNBot activities and minimize their impacts.

publication date

  • January 1, 2023

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)