Botnets: My PC is a zombified gun for hire
Most of the time I use the internet to research stories, look up movies or stalk… errm, I mean keep in contact with friends using social media. If I’m feeling particularly exciting I might check out a YouTube video of a cat playing the piano or a panda sneezing.
My computer, on the other hand, is busy running around extorting people as part of an organised crime gang or working as a double agent for foreign governments. And in its down time it hires itself out as a mercenary.
And there is a good chance yours is doing this too.
I’m incredibly lame by comparison. I watch porn sometimes, but I’ve never mounted a full frontal attack on Estonia .
Nor have I conducted online extortion attempts or stolen someone’s identity like Leonardo DiCaprio did before he became famous and got to leave his life of crime behind forever.
But my PC has. Or rather - there is a one in five chance it has.
Welcome to the wonderful world of botnets.
A botnet is the product of “malware”. Malware are like the viruses that crash your computer, with the difference being that instead of crashing your PC malware enslaves it, turning it into a “zombie”.
Those aren’t my words by the way. Those are the words of a man with a doctorate - the world’s coolest doctorate.
According to Professor Michael Fry from the University of Sydney’s School of Information Technologies about one in five home computers and one in 10 work computers have been taken over by such malware and are being used by “bot herders” to conduct illegal activity.
These tasks are quite diverse. I’d heard of botnets before when I wrote an article about a guy called Leo Kuvayev - who seems to think I have a small penis.
Back then it was thought he was in control of a botnet that mainly enslaved other computers to send out spam - advertisements for Viagra, penile-pumps and pornography.
But it was only a matter of time before organised crime - and eventually the government - found a task for these enslaved zombie armies.
Prof Fry said botnets are today’s “weapon of choice” for organised crime conducting denial of service attacks (DoS) and there is a strong suspicion in cyber security circles that governments have used botnets to sabotage neighbouring countries’ IT systems.
A denial-of-service attack is when someone directs such a large number of requests to a target URL, and so quickly that the Web server can’t respond and the site becomes inaccessible to everyone.
Prof Fry said individuals were already using attacks such as these to extort money right here in Australia.
“We had a case where a man in Alice Springs had his system go down one day,” Prof Fry said.
“A little later he received an email from a group saying ‘this was us and pay up or we’ll do it again’. He told them no and the next day they attacked him, bringing his whole system down.”
They are even reports of botnets being hired out for a fee.
It turns out the best weapon you have against your computer becoming a zombie slavering for brains is to make sure the software on your computer is regularly updated.
Seriously, the best weapon you have in the battle against organised crime and cyber-zombies is that button that says ‘Yes, check for updates’.
But all this is beside the point. I’m just pissed off my PC has a more exciting life than I do.
When I was growing up I wanted to be James Bond for a while, then I saw the Godfather and wanted to be in the mafia, and which boy out there hasn’t toyed with the idea of being a gun for hire?
Turns out my computer is doing all three. While I slave away working to keep it updated and put a roof over its head my PC is out there living my childhood dreams.
Thankfully its days of living a daring triple life are numbered.
Last week Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, announced Australia will join other countries in developing a national cyber security strategy later this year. It’s only a matter of time before my computer slips up and is caught red handed in some illicit activity.
And then it can get on with the daring life of a fugitive on the run for justice.
Meanwhile, if anyone wants me I’ll be at work.
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