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Bot-nets -what are they and how can you stop them?

Many home users are not aware of the dangers and damages caused by botnets. This is not a surprise, many businesses are not aware either, even ones with an IT staff. Each of us must take positive proactive steps to detect destroy and prevent them before it is too late, the catch is as botnets are insidious, and use stealth as a key weapon.

What are bots or botnets?

Botnets are networks of "bots" - short for robots, think in terms of an army of terrorists. The are a large network of "captured" or compromised computers These captured or compromised computers can be used for a wide variety of inappropriate purposes, even criminal activities. Some of the activities include launching a denial of service attack against another network (DOS), keystroke logging( the first step in identity theft over via a computer and password theft) sending of spam emails, They are often created by spam emails (just opening the email could infect your computer, adware when one downloads a wrong application over the internet or even just visiting a site intended to distribute botnets. All of these methods can infect ones computer with a software agent or bot,

If ones computer is infected it can be controlled by the malware creator often called a bot-master or bot-herder. A single botnet can be used by the bot-herder to launch a Denial of Service attack against a network using thousands of computers from around the world. In some cases the bot herder does not even launch the attack, merely use the possibility to extort money from some unlucky company. Do you want to be part of this type of criminal activity? Imagine the havoc and damage that would occur if a Dnial of Service attack was launched against a company like paypal. Millions around the world could be adversely affected. One botnet is reported to have used 400,000 computers over a 2 week peiod to cripple a hospital in Seattle January 2005 the attack disabled MD's pagers and shut down the intensive care unit.

The person that launched that attack was caught and received a 3 year jail sentence and a $250,000 fine.

Bot nets are often rented out to scam artists, spammers and other criminal activities. Criminals find botnets particularly useful because they can be used for so many illicit or undesirable activities and the will pay large amounts of money for the use of a botnet.

Another way the bot-herder can make money is by installing clickware on to computers in their networks These clickware programs install ads and other popups onto a computer and they get credit and financial reward just by one clicking through the ad to get rid of it – after you saw the ad There are reports of some bot-herders making as much as $10,00 a month by renting out their networks and from clickware pay offs.

Some botnets scan a computer or record keystrokes to determine passwords and usernames, maybe even to find confidential documents. Any of this information can be used by criminals for a variety of illegal reasons.

It is difficult to determine how many computers are infected by botnets. By their very nature they are intended to operate in stealth mode or below the level of computer users awarness. In March 2007 Symantic (the ones responsible for Norton products) reported that Bot-net activity was up 10% in the US over the previous year with possibly in the order of 40% of computers infected.

At one time users or Internet Relay Chat (IRD) were particular targets of bot herders. They no longer specialise in IRC as that method was easy o detect on most systems can now block the more common methods of compromising a system through IRC. Most bot herders are now changing to more complex methods using advance techniques of HTTP tunnelling and peer-to-peer networks and encrypted IRC.

Some of the ways to prevent these service from being misused are ones your ISP can and should provide.

The next article will be some suggested ways for the home user to block botnets.

more on botnets
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