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December 16, 2007, 11:25 pm
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Is your computer a criminal?
Posted: Nov 27 at 04:00 am CT by Bob Sullivan
Kim Carney / MSNBC.com
Your home computer may be committing a crime at this very moment. It
might be sending out spam. It might be buying stock as part of a pump-
and-dump scheme. Or it might be helping attack the Internet itself,
silently and invisibly, as you read this story. And the odds your
computer is a criminal are quickly rising.
The Web, some say, has been turned into an operating system for
criminals. Computer viruses that hijack PCs and turn them into
electronic robots, or "bots," have become the killer app. The
operation of networks of hijacked computers is so lucrative that
hackers are actually fighting electronic wars over them, a story we
will explore next week in part two of this series.
New hacker techniques make these virus attacks so subtle that there is
no way you would know your computer is a criminal. And there is a
growing sense among security experts that hackers have gained the
upper hand in what was once a neck-and-neck arms race.
Bots can squirm their way onto home computers in myriad ways: a virus-
laden e-mail or a booby-trapped Web site are the most common. But some
viruses can attack your computer in the background, silently worming
their way through networks via unprotected ports and porous firewalls,
using vulnerabilities that software companies don't know about.
Earlier this year, Internet founding father Vint Cerf dramatically
suggested that 150 million computers worldwide may have been hijacked
by criminals. Most experts think that his estimate is high, but they
still count infected computers in the millions, or tens of millions.
And there is general consensus that the Internet is under assault from
virus writers like never before.
Listen carefully to the words of those who are trying to help us keep
our computers safe from Net criminals and you'll get a creeping sense
that the boat is leaking faster than they can bail out the water.
There were two-and-a-half times as many viruses released in 2006 as in
2005, and the growth rate has continued through the first quarter of
2007, said Eugene Kaspersky, chief researcher for Kaspersky Labs.
Antivirus firms "may not be able to withstand the onslaught," he said
at a recent computer security conference. "This is a competition where
the antivirus companies, I fear, are not in a good position."
Another antivirus executive put it more bluntly in a private
conversation. "I think we've failed," said the official, speaking on
condition of anonymity. Computer security firms often use hyperbole to
help get attention for their products, but expressing helplessness is
I'm online day after day and this is all I use www.myinvisusdirect.com/smith