computersecurityFrom the title of this post, it might sound like it I’m talking about a horror movie or a sci-fi thriller, but what I’m talking about is actually a very real threat.  I recently read an article called The Zombie On Your Desk by Daniel Suarez where he discusses the threat of botnets. He describes a botnet as “an army of compromised personal computers which have been stealthily pressed into service by high-tech criminal gangs.” Wikipedia says a botnet is slang term “generally used to refer to a collection of compromised computers (called Zombie computers) running software, usually installed via worms, Trojan horses, or backdoors.”  Botnets can be used to launch denial-of-service attacks, to create email relays for spam, and to steal personal information such as login IDs, banking information, and credit card numbers.  Suarez says “an unprotected computer linked to the Internet can be infected within minutes and folded into a botnet army intent on causing harm to other systems.”

In a January 2007 article, Tim Weber of the BBC said that 100 to 150 million personal computers (about 25% of computers on the Internet) were part of a botnet being used by cyber criminals.  The Register, a British technology news site, reports that Dutch police arrested a trio of young men in 2005 in one of the largest botnets ever discovered where they were using 1.5 million computers allegedly to extort a US company and distribute spyware. In March of 2008, in an article called Botnet scams are exploding, the USA Today reported that “botnet-based Internet attacks against commercial and government networks have increased over the past two years from 333,000 to 7.2 million daily — an increase of 2,162% despite a combined major effort by government and the private sector to eradicate them.”

How to Keep Your Computer Safe?

Here are some suggestions for keeping your personal computer safe from botnets:

  • Install and use anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. Several anti-virus companies have announced products to stop botnets.
  • Try not to leave unused computers running, especially when they are connected to the Internet.
  • Make sure to apply software security patches for your individual programs and your operating system (i.e. Window’s Automatic Updates), as Suarez says ”out of a sense of civic duty, if nothing else.”
  • Consider setting up a non-administrator account on your computer for everyday use and especially while surfing the Internet. A non-administrator login with reduced privileges can prevent a wide range of viruses from installing themselves.
  • Never buy or use pirated software.  Experts estimate that 50% of all pirated Windows programs come with trojan viruses pre-installed on them.

Disclaimer: I am not a computer security expert, so those of you readers who are experts in this area, please correct anything that I might have said wrong.

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