How to protect your computer online against viruses and spyware

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Botnets

What are Botnets and how to combat them?

Adding to the array of online threats, botnets are yet another serious threat to your computer system. If you didn't know, or have never heard of botnets, here's a good analogue for it: "A botnet is comparable to compulsory military service for windows boxes" - Stromberg

Network of hacker-infected computers

Botnets are networks of computers that hackers have infected and grouped together under their control to propagate viruses, send illegal spam, and carry out attacks that cause web sites to crash.

What makes botnets exceedingly bad is the difficulty in tracing them back to their creators as well as the ever-increasing use of them in extortion schemes. How are they used in extortion schemes? Imagine someone sending you messages to either pay up or see your web site crash. This scenario is starting to replay itself over and over again.

Denial-of-service attacks

Botnets are a serious threat to your computer

By infecting your computer with their spyware, botnets can cause denial-of-service problems to your computer, and even bring whole computer systems down.

Botnets can consist of thousands of compromised machines. With such a large network, botnets can use Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) as a method to cause mayhem and chaos. For example a small botnet with only 500 bots can bring corporate web sites to there knees by using the combined bandwidth of all the computers to overwhelm corporate systems and thereby cause the web site to appear offline.

Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service on January 19, 2006, quotes Kevin Hogan, senior manager for Symantec Security Response, in his article "Botnets shrinking in size, harder to trace", Hogan says "extortion schemes have emerged backed by the muscle of botnets, and hackers are also renting the use of armadas of computers for illegal purposes through advertisements on the Web."

Combat botnets with Honeypot

One well-known technique to combat botnets is a honeypot. Honeypots help discover how attackers infiltrate systems. A Honeypot is essentially a set of resources that one intends to be compromised in order to study how the hackers break the system. Unpatched Windows 2000 or XP machines make great honeypots given the ease with which one can take over such systems.

A great site to read up on this topic more is The Honeynet Project (http://project.honeynet.org) which describes its own site's objective as "To learn the tools, tactics and motives involved in computer and network attacks, and share the lessons learned."

For more details on how to protect yourself while online, read our other article - Online Security Rules.

Computer Spyware Articles:

  • Adware - When you use your computer for online work, reasearch and entertainment, you will end up with adware being installed ony our computer without your consent. These could be harmless tracking programs, or nasty monitors of your online habits. 
  • Botnets - This is probably one of the works threats to your computer system, difficult to locate and even harder to delete when infection occurs. Botnets are often used by hackers to infiltrate computers and use them as a network to propagate viruses and spam, to infect other computers. 
  • Spyware - Often used in advertising, these spying programs infest possibly some 80% of computers, mostly unknown to their owners. Often a dozen or more of spyware programs can be found on any computer, tracking user's online habits. 
  • CounterSpy - Being generally a nuissance, spyware is a booming industry, using agressive advertising and spying tactics on you. One of the best spyware removal programs is CounterSpy, by Sunbelt Software. 
  • Spyware Programs - You already have learned that many spware programs could be infesting your computer right now. There are 3 basic ways in which you get these programs: freeware and shareware, deceptive downloads, and security holes. 
  • Intelligent Explorer - Although a rare threat today, masquerading as Internet Explorer toolbar, this deceptive software program will generate a lot of unwanted popups and downloads without your permission. 
  • Spyware Remover Programs - Spyware programs track your internet usage, collect personal data, and spawn popup advertisements. This can cause your computer to slow down, or worse. Windows Spyware Remover, Ad-Aware, and Spybot can all help you delete spyware from your computer.