Botnets Grow in Size and Sophistication
Botnets, networks of thousands of computers used to spread malware, have become the hottest commodity of cyber criminals. Malicious code, as dangerous as it is, has taken a back seat to the means to deliver it. As a result, hackers and spammers are no longer the sole leading figures responsible for perpetrating cyber crime.
Botnet controllers are responsible for pulling the strings of an increasingly professional and sophisticated cyber crime community. Emerging as a new serious brand of player, they are threatening the very openness of the Internet that we have come to take for granted.
Botnets have the ability to attack the Internet en masse. As a result, the frequency and complexity of attacks is escalating. Another contributing factor is the professionalism displayed by the cyber criminals.
An example of this was recently reported on PC World. Security firm Panda Software discovered an innovative application called Zunker, which was used to control and monitor botnet computers in as many as 54 countries. The tool had been designed to be easy to use and allowed the owner the ability to tune the performance of the network.
As another sign of sophistication, security researchers have found that a growing number of botnets are being used only once. The botnet controller rents the network to the highest bidder and, once an attack is completed, abandons it. This strategy makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track the botnet controllers, or ‘bot herders’ as they are also called.
Bringing those criminals to justice, though difficult, is not impossible. Witness the sentencing of Jeanson Ancheta, 21, of California to a term of 57 months in a federal prison. Ancheta, a bot herder, controlled and rented 400,000 computers to other cyber criminals who used the network to launch security attacks.
Contributing to the problem is the large number of home users whose computers do not have adequate protection and are easy prey for botnet operators. It is critical that home users install up-to-date firewalls and security software, in addition to practicing caution when going online.
Notwithstanding all the challenges ahead, security experts remain optimistic that the botnet threat can be mitigated without having to alter how we currently use the Internet. The prospect of a closed Internet is not something that would benefit anyone, cyber criminals included.