One cyber club you don’t want to join – the botnet

Have you ever heard of a botnet? No, it isn’t a new japanese fetish for robots all working to make some new supercar. It’s a kind of technology that takes advantage of you and your computer, usually to help break into other people’s computers, crack passwords, and spread infections across the net. The big problem with botnets is that many people don’t know they’ve already been infected with one.

Viruses and malware have changed a lot in the past few years, becoming much more sophisticated in how they infect and what they do once they have taken over a computer.  Once upon a time, viruses would damage word and excel documents, destroy windows files and cause those annoying BSOD’s (blue screen of death). Now though, malware isn’t about trying to cause grief and random damage. It about theft and power.

No long do you need to worry about some kid in a basement, hacking away at a bit of code for fun and giggles at the havoc he may cause. Now many attacks are coordinated assaults, sometimes by anarchic hackers, but sometimes by real life crime syndicates trying to steal your data, your money, and your identity.

For years, every IT person on the planet has hounded his users to install antivirus software and keep it up to date, along with doing all updates for their Operating System, be it Windows or Mac (yes you Mac users CAN get viruses and you’ll be seeing a lot more of them soon, count on it). All those things are still very important, but now protecting yourself from joining a very unwanted cyber club has much more to do with the user, than the technology.

Even the most casual internet user must educate themselves on how to protect their computer, their identity and what all is actually installed on their computer. What is Java? Should you update it when it prompts? What about Adobe Flash or Acrobat Reader or that Dell system utility updater? What if you get a pop up suddenly telling you that thousands of infections are on your PC…but you’ve never heard of the program that is reporting it? What if you get a call from a random IT company claiming your system is infected, or your actual ISP sends you a message warning of infection. What do you do? How do you handle it?

You can call us of course, and we’ll assist as best possible to not just clean an infection, but also to secure your information and reassure yourself. However, the best defense against any of these comes from the source…you. What do you download onto your system, what do you agree to, how do you set your passwords, how often do you change them? These are only the most basic things that any user of the internet must consider to keep themselves “safe” online.

In the past few months, we have encountered a host of new attacks on computers that are becoming harder and harder to fix, no matter what tools one seeks online. The analogy of computer malware as a “virus” is now more true than ever. Prevention is always better than trying to cure.

Take the time to review your computers, your network and if you have any questions or concerns about what you see, contact a professional who can review it with you and then, most importantly, act on those suggestions.

You don’t want to turn on your computer one day, find it booting into a phantom operating system and transmitting all your data across thousands of similarly infected computers. Antivirus is only the most basic tool in your arsenal to prevent this. Keep an eye here as I discuss one of the most unusual attacks we’ve seen recently and what the most likely causes for it were, along with the potential fixes…which in this case weren’t many. Something that is also becoming frighteningly more common.

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