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Source: The Electric New Paper

Posted on January 9, 2007

      Every day, your computer is at risk of being hijacked by hackers to wreak all sorts of Internet havoc such as sending spam, committing fraud or stealing data.

      And here's the real bad news - there's not much you can do about it.

      With hackers growing more sophisticated at secretly installing software to take control of thousands, even millions, or personal computers over the Internet, some computer security experts are already waving the white flag, reported the New York Times.

      Although the problem of hijacked computer networks, or botnets, have been around for a while, the sudden escalation of the problem, along with the precision with which some of the malicious software can scan computers for specific information to drain money from online bank accounts, has left security experts at a loss to how to combat the trend.

      'It's the perfect crime, both low-risk and high-profit,' said Mr Gadi Evron, a computer security researcher for an Israeli-based firm, Beyond Security, who coordinates an international volunteer effort to fight botnets.


      'The war to make the Internet safe was lost long ago, and we need to figure out what to do now.'

      Mr. David Dagon, a Georgia Institute of Technology researcher who is a co-founder of Damballa, a start-up company focusing on controlling botnets, reckons that botnet programs are present on about 11 per cent of the more than 650 million computers attached to the Internet.

      The software used to hijack computers are often created by small groups of code writers in Eastern Europe and elsewhere and distributed in a variety of ways, including e-mail attachments and downloads by users who do not know they are getting something malicious.

      Once installed on Internet-connected computers, they can be remotely controlled by the code writers.

      One chief executive of a San Francisco-based company that sells information on computer security threats said his company sees more than 250,000 new botnet infections daily.

      The problem is that botnet programs are evolving faster than security firms can find a way to counter them, computer experts say. This is further compounded by the fact that many Internet service providers are either ignoring or minimising the problem.

      'It's a huge scientific, policy, and ultimately social crisis,' said Mr K C Claffy, a veteran Internet researcher at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

      'And no one is taking any responsibility for addressing it.' Also, Mr David J. Farber, a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist who was an Internet pioneer, believes that the problem is getting out of control because computer users don't realise how vulnerable they are.

      'It's an insidious threat, and what worries me is that the scope of the problem is still not clear to most people,' he said.

      'The popular machines are so easy to penetrate, and that's scary.'

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