Botnets: robots to avoid

Malware has been around in some form for over 40 years, but the use of malware to take control of a group of computers that are then organised into something called a botnet is more than a 21st century phenomenon, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO of ESET Southern Africa.

Botnets have been responsible for some of the most costly security incidents experienced during the last 10 years, so a lot of effort goes into debating botnet malware, and, when possible, shutting botnets down.

The word botnet is made of two words: bot and net. Bot is short for robot, a name that is sometimes given to a computer that is infected by malicious software.

The net comes from a network, a group of systems that are linked together. A botnet is a network of infected computers, where the network is used by malware to spread.

When a computer becomes part of a botnet, it can be instructed to send spam or make queries to overload a Web site. These behaviours might be visible to the user who has less limited bandwidth available to use the Internet.

Botnets are used by cybercriminals for various reasons, ranging from information theft to sending spam. The more resources you have, the faster you get results. Various types of people operate botnets.

Criminal gangs use them to steal banking credentials and commit fraud, pranksters use them to spy on Webcams and extort their victims.

Risks with botnets are varied; sensitive information can be stolen, such as intellectual property, or passwords giving access to various resources. Once a computer is infected, it does not belong to its owner anymore; it is operated and used by someone who can be on the other side of the globe, potentially conducting all kinds of illegal activities.

Botnets are a threat to both businesses and consumers. Most companies do have stricter security and monitoring; identifying and stopping botnet attacks is then easier, however, there is more sensitive data to be stolen and so the lure is more appealing for a cybercriminal.

Botnets have been created for all types of operating system, and is feasible for every platform, an example is the Flashback malware, which infected hundreds of thousands of Mac devices.

According to ESET, a global provider of security software for enterprises and consumers, there are various ways to fight botnets, starting with anti-malware. The most effective approach to fighting botnet is by educating and raising awareness around this threat. People need to understand, that if their computer is infected, it might be used to harm others.

So, whenever an infected computer is found, it needs to be taken offline and cleaned as quickly as possible.

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