Yet more reasons to make sure you keep your virus scanner updated and your system patched.
The trend among virus writers these days is a move away from causing havoc and destruction for notoriety to infecting and commandeering PCs as a means of making money. How? By offering up networks of infected machines for everything from spreading SPAM to hosting scammer’s webpages. It’s estimated that a third of all the SPAM currently circulating on the Internet is sent by or relayed through PCs that have been taken over by these Trojan programs and the virus writers are slowly increasing the sophistication of their creations by borrowing some ideas from the Peer-to-Peer networking crowd:
Joe Stewart, a computer expert at Lurhq, a security company based in Chicago, said that he discovered this new phase in the evolution of Trojan horse programs while taking apart a program called Backdoor.Sinit, which has been circulating on the Internet since late September.
Sinit, Stewart said, does something unexpected: It uses the commandeered machines to form a peer-to-peer network like the popular Kazaa program used to trade music files. Each machine on the network can share resources and provide information to the others without being controlled by a central server machine.
“It’s like Kazaa only without all the pesky copyrighted files,” Stewart said. And, as the music industry has discovered, when there is no central machine, “these tactics make it impossible to shut down,” he said.
Computer security researchers have been watching the evolution of remote-access rogue programs as they have become more common and have put more machines under the control of hackers. Programs like Sinit infect target machines and surreptitiously open back doors that allow outsiders to control the PCs.
The rings of infected computers have been used to send spam, to present online advertisements for pornographic Web sites or to trick people into giving up information like credit card numbers.
The move to broadband appears to be increasing, even my parents have broadband now, and the number of people who leave their PCs turned on all the time is also growing. It’s also true that the majority of PC users are pretty clueless about patching their PCs and making sure their virus scanner is updated, let alone having a firewall installed, and when you combine that with the trend by ISPs and webhosting companies toward cracking down on SPAM pushers and scammers it’s no big surprise that the virus writers are suddenly hearing cash registers ringing in their ears.
The simple truth is that if you’re not at least learning enough about securing your system to make sure that at a bare minimum it’s fully patched and has a current virus scanner on it then you’re just contributing to the problem. Especially if you’re leaving it on all the time and have broadband. Everyone likes to complain about SPAM and scammers, but few seem to realize they can help alleviate both problems just by securing their home PC.