A Robot Network Seeks to Enlist Your Computer
By JOHN MARKOFF The New York Times October 21, 2008
REDMOND, Wash. - In a windowless room on Microsoft's campus here, T. J. Campana, a cybercrime investigator, connects an unprotected computer running an early version of Windows XP to the Internet. In about 30 seconds the computer is "owned."
An automated program lurking on the Internet has remotely taken over the PC and turned it into a "zombie." That computer and other zombie machines are then assembled into systems called "botnets" - home and business PCs that are hooked together into a vast chain of cyber-robots that do the bidding of automated programs to send the majority of e-mail spam, to illegally seek financial information and to install malicious software on still more PCs.
Botnets remain an Internet scourge. Active zombie networks created by a growing criminal underground peaked last month at more than half a million computers, according to shadowserver.org, an organization that tracks botnets. Even though security experts have diminished the botnets to about 300,000 computers, that is still twice the number detected a year ago.
The actual numbers may be far larger; Microsoft investigators, who say they are tracking about 1,000 botnets at any given time, say the largest network still controls several million PCs.
"The mean time to infection is less than five minutes," said Richie Lai, who is part of Microsoft's Internet Safety Enforcement Team, a group of about 20 researchers and investigators. The team is tackling a menace that in the last five years has grown from a computer hacker pastime to a dark business that is threatening the commercial viability of the Internet.
Any computer connected to the Internet can be vulnerable. Computer security executives recommend that PC owners run a variety of commercial malware detection programs, like Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool, to find infections of their computers. They should also protect the PCs behind a firewall and install security patches for operating systems and applications.
Even these steps are not a sure thing. Last week Secunia, a computer security firm, said it had tested a dozen leading PC security suites and found that the best one detected only 64 out of 300 software vulnerabilities that make it possible to install malware on a computer.
...***** Moderator's Note *****
So long as Microsoft considers security to be a public-relations issue, and pays lip service to security warnings from anyone who doesn't go public, the botnets and the malware will always be with us.
On the plus side, Mac and Linux users enjoy a never-ending holiday, since Microsoft's OS is so easy to hack that the adware/spyware coders only bother with Windows machines.
Bill "Asbestos Longjohns" Horne Temporary Moderator