Ask the Expert: Can a Botnet Really Turn My Computer Into a Zombie?

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Q: “I recently read about something called bots and botnets, and that these things can turn my computer into a zombie. What does that mean? Can you explain what botnets are and what they do?”

A: Botnets are a new and scary online phenomenon. In layman’s terms, a botnet is a network of infected computers that are controlled virtually by a botmaster.

With the rapid growth in bot infections, it’s vitally important that everyone get up to speed about this threat.

Night of the Living BotNets

Botmasters can take over computers in a variety of ways, but usually they do it by sending infected emails to unsuspecting users. When the user opens a file attached to the email, their machine becomes infected.

After a computer becomes infected, the botmaster adds it to his or her botnet, which is the network of infected computers. Infected computers are sometimes called “zombie” computers.

The botmaster is able to virtually control the computers in his or her botnet and usually uses them to send spam, viruses, and spyware, although they are also used to steal money from banks, and for Denial of Service attacks, which can make a website unavailable.

Additionally, bots can steal personal and private information from infected computers, including credit card numbers, bank account information, and other sensitive personal data.

The largest botnet in history was called BredoLab and infected 30,000,000 machines. The second largest, Mariposa, infected 12,000,000 computers. There are over 5,000,000 botnets worldwide.

And if none of that scares you, here’s some sobering information: over 150,000 machines are becoming botnet zombies each day. And botnets attacks are up 600% in just the past year alone.

Show Me the Botnet Money

Botnets are responsible for sending nearly 90% of all spam emails. One botnet called Rustock sent a staggering 30 billion spam emails a day. And despite how much we all hate spam, it’s still a very profitable business.

The bot master only needs a tiny percentage of recipients to open a spam email to make money. If one-tenth of 1% of recipients open a particular spam message, bot masters can make a profit of up to 67%.

How to Avoid Becoming a Botnet Zombie

So how can you protect your computer from becoming a botnet zombie? Below are some things you can do to stop this from happening:

  • Run up to date antivirus and antispyware software
  • Keep your computer’s software up to date
  • Use a firewall
  • Use strong passwords
  • Run a complete scan of your computer regularly
  • Increase the security settings on your web browers
  • Do not open email attachments unless you are absolutely sure it is safe
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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.