By Andrew Charlesworth
27 Oct 2006
Cyber criminals are assembling the biggest botnet for over two years
already close to a million PCs online security experts have told
No one knows yet exactly what nefarious activity the army of captive PCs
will be used for. But the chances are it will be a massive onslaught of
phishing aimed at defrauding web consumers in the run up to Christmas.
Botnets are distributed networks of zombie computers, usually
broadband-connected home PCs, recruited into criminal service, unbeknown
to their owners, by infection with a Trojan virus.
Once assembled, a botnet is hired out, for example, to launch a phishing
attack of email messages to online banking customers intended to dupe
them into revealing their security details.
Botnets have also been used to launch distributed denial of service
(DDOS) attacks where a criminal bombards an online company's systems
with communications preventing them from conducting business. The
criminals then extort money from the company to stop the attack.
The last time a botnet of nearly a million PCs was assembled was to
launch the Netsky virus attacks in July and August 2004.
Since then, botnets have been shrinking steadily to a maximum of around
20,000 PCs. This reduction is not due to better online security, but
because the cyber criminals have learned that such large-scale attacks
draw too much attention.
"Fraud through spam and phishing is still very lucrative for cyber
criminals, " Mark Sunner, chief technical officer at security firm
MessageLabs told vnunet.
"We expect to see an increase in activity before Christmas when
consumers are in a buying mood and more likely to be targets."
Sunner says the super-size botnet is spread among computers across the
globe. MessageLabs experts have watched it being assembled over the last
few weeks, but don't know who is behind it.
MessageLabs' internet report for September shows that one in 89 messages
intercepted by its email filters is malware, and more than half this is
a phishing attack. In August, phishing attacks were 30 per cent of
malware, and in July 20 per cent.
October's report, due shortly, is expected to show another sharp rise.
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