Q: What exactly is a “botnet?”-Jules

A: Software robots or “bots” are responsible for performing tasks automatically and are a huge part of what makes the Internet what it is today.

Bots are what gather information for search engines (searchbots) and shopping sites (shopbots) as well as thousands of other processes. There are millions of bots running on the Internet every minute of the day that do minuscule repetitive tasks that improve the experience for humans on the Internet.

A network of bots (botnet) uses a large number of machines on the Internet all controlled by the creator (a.k.a. “bot herder”) to perform larger tasks. Increasingly, the term “botnet” has become synonymous with malicious intent.

As with all great technology, the malcontents have figured out how to take these bots, compromise less-protected computers and use them to perform malicious tasks generally for sending spam, stealing identities and attacking popular websites through Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

The reason that this has become the tool of choice for organized crime rings around the world is that they can easily (and silently) compromise Internet connected computers that don’t have proper protection and employ them in their devious plots.

Many of you reading this column at this moment are unknowing participants in these malicious botnets because you are currently infected with a worm or Trojan that allows them to use your machine remotely, without your knowledge.

We see these infected computers everyday in our repair facilities and in many cases the user is convinced that they have never contracted a virus or worm. It’s kind of like proclaiming that you don’t have any cavities until you go to the dentist and he shows you that you have 3.

The masterminds of these botnets have found it fairly easy to trick users into becoming participants in their schemes through “free” e-mail offers, file sharing networks, Instant Messaging systems and social networking sites.

Anything that you click on, download or install can contain these hidden programs that instantly turn your computer into a zombie slave on their network to do their dirty work.

One of the first things they do is look for other computers to infect on your home or business network. This means that if you discover a worm on any computer on your network, you must check all of the systems for that worm or it will simply re-infect the cleaned up computer.

In the past, the “hackers” were interested in making headlines, but today they are more interested in making money. To that end, they do a very good job of hiding themselves and focus on processes that will generate money, such as spam and identity theft.

Frankly speaking, households with high-speed Internet connections and teenagers are in the highest risk group because teenagers are considered an easy way to get to the parents personal information.

Teenagers are more likely to engage in the seedy side of the Internet, so they have become the latest target for organized crime.

Your best defense against this ever increasing menace is the usual:

  • Keep Windows updated
  • Keep your anti-virus / anti-spyware programs updated
  • Avoid installing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary
  • Avoid clicking on links in e-mail messages, instant messages and social networking Web sites
  • Stay away from file sharing networks, such as Kazaa and Limewire

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services
Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show
Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers

[tags]ken colburn, data doctors, botnet, kazaa, spyware, virus[/tags]