It sounds like the plot of a sci-fi thriller: Thousands of dormant robot cells lie poised to attack wherever their malevolent leader directs them, and once activated they wreak havoc on mankind. But this scenario is not fiction; it is happening every day in the digital age. Botnets, villainous computer networks that terrorize the Internet, are known for being among the stealthiest of online threats — and your computer may be at risk.
What Do Botnets Do?
Botnets are a major threat to the Internet and yet many people don’t know exactly what a Botnet is.
The term is an amalgam of the words “robot” and “network,” and describes a network of online computers that can secretly transfer information, such as personal data or credit card information, to other computers. The computers (also known as zombies) are infected with malware that causes them to act on behalf of the network. Each computer acts autonomously, usually without the owner knowing it, but follows the directions of a third-party master.
What’s the problem? Hackers build botnets to commit cybercrime. These crimes may be as minimal as spamming or as serious as stealing personal information to commit ID theft. The malicious networks can also be used to transmit viruses or redirect people to a specific website, overwhelming it with traffic and shutting it down as a method of cyberterrorism. And this is not one-time crime; hackers today also “rent” their botnets to other criminals.
With bot toolkits for hackers selling for a mere price of $500 today and attacks having the potential to infect millions of computers, botnets have become a serious problem, and it’s growing! Hackers now compete to see who can amass the largest and most powerful botnet. Last year, the FBI brought down the creator of the Mariposa Botnet, which had control of between 8 million and 12 million computers, and was used to steal passwords for websites and banks. This amount of power, used maliciously, is catastrophic and can seriously endanger Internet users and their personal online information.
How to Protect Yourself
The success of botnets comes from their secrecy. Most users don’t even know their computer has been infected by malware, which has made it a drone. Follow these tips to avoid becoming part of a botnet web.
Antivirus, antispyware, and firewall: Make sure you have all of these protections installed; these software programs will detect any viruses (that can make your computer a zombie) and prevent your computer from being infected.
ZoneAlarm Extreme Security 2012 includes this software, and its Antivirus/Spyware Scan Engine specifically detects bots and other malware.
Update regularly: Always update your software and operating system to ensure you have the most recent security patches and bug-free systems running.
Surf smart: Hackers prey on unsuspecting users, manipulating them into installing malware accidentally. You can avoid this: Don’t click on unusual links that may be phishing scams or fall for scams that encourage you install programs.
Create strong passwords: Hackers can also install malware by accessing poorly protected accounts with weak passwords. Use passwords with letters, symbols, and numbers to deter this.
Be wary of other computers: Other infected computers can actually end up corrupting yours. For example, if you insert your personal USB drive into a friend’s infected computer, the drive — and eventually your computer — could be corrupted.