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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Botnets: the new battleground of cybercrime

Fast-developing malware

Gone are the days of the lone teenage hacker breaking into computers for fun. Botnets are the only game worth their time now. Serious hackers with rent to pay have abandoned their anarchic principles to build vast global armies of home computers – perhaps even including yours, or that of someone you know.
Cloaked by increasingly sophisticated security, these so-called botmasters dodge justice to claim bragging rights from their peers – and, of course, to make a fortune by renting their creations to hardened criminals.
Stealing your credit card and banking details, spamming, phishing, extorting money through DDoS (distributed denial-of service) attacks and even hosting child pornography can all now be carried out with just a few mouse clicks. Depending on the payload that's downloaded to each of the enslaved 'zombie' computers, these activities are only the tip of a growing iceberg.
While a botnet's zombie software may take only tiny amounts of your CPU's time, individual botnets are becoming so huge overall that some experts are starting to seriously worry about the sheer power that botmasters are making freely available for criminals to rent.
"In terms of power, the botnet utterly blows all of the supercomputers away," says Matt Sergeant of MessageLabs. What's more, sophisticated construction kits are now being packaged into point-and-click products, ready for use by non computer-literate criminals to build their own botnets.
A growing market for add-on packages that can expand a botnet's functionality is also developing, and botnet software that can even replace one infection with its own is already in the wild.
The state of the art in malware design has never developed faster. And yet judging by infection rates and the sheer amount of stolen information available for sale online, home users are oblivious to the risks they run every time they use the internet. Most have never heard of botnets or botmasters, but with an average detection rate currently standing at around 47 per cent for the most widespread type of botnet software, your computer could be infected right now and you wouldn't know it.
So just who is controlling our computers and how exactly are they making money out of doing so? To find out, we sought out the botnet hunters who fight back.

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