My 4/17/11 Missoulian column
I’ve covered Internet “botnets” in the past, and last week something unprecedented happened with a major botnet and the U.S. Justice Department and an organization called the Internet Systems Consortium were involved.
A botnet is a network of home and office PCs that have been compromised by malware and turned into “zombies,” in the terminology of the high-tech world. That means the PCs are remotely controlled by the hackers who were able to install the malware by hook or crook, by fooling users into installing it through fake software or by enticing users to click on a link disguised as one thing but really secretly installs the malware through security holes in the PCs software.
Once a PC is a zombie, it’s under the control of the herders of the botnet, and personal information can be stolen from the PC and it can also be used to send more malware. Botnets can also be used as weapons in cyber battles, where the power of all the zombie PCs can be pointed at other networks in order to disrupt them, all without the user of the PC knowing that’s happening.
The battle between botnet herders and the good guys – the security firms that fight malware, software producers and the governments that seek to enforce laws and protect themselves and their networks – is ongoing. One botnet will taken down and another will emerge, with botnet herders using security holes in PCs to build anew.
This particular botnet was built with malware called Coreflood; it recorded keystrokes and stole logins and passwords from PCs. That information was sent to central servers run by the botnet herders. Some estimates say that up to 2 million PCs have been infected by Coreflood.
But the interesting thing that happened last week was that the Justice Department got a restraining order against the botnet herders and took control of the central servers. The Justice Department then turned over control of the botnet to the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium. The Internet Systems Consortium replaced the botnet control servers with its own.
And then the Justice Department let the Internet Systems Consortium do something that was another first. When those zombie PCs phoned home and tried to tell their owners that they were ready for work, the new controller of the botnet – Internet Systems Consortium – was able to electronically give the zombies a clear command: “turn yourself off.”
More next Sunday.
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