Botnets? Zombie Armies? What the Hack are They and Why Should I Care?

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Botnet    Alias:  Zombie Army 
Bot is short for Robot…
Net is short for Network… 
Zombie
is a will-less entity captured and controlled by a controller
Bot Herder is a manager/controller of a botnet

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So a botnet is a network of robot computers — an “army” of robot/zombie computers infected with remote-controlled software/programs that run at the will of a Bot Herder without the computer user’s knowledge.

Sounds weird but why should you care about that?

You not only should care, you NEED to care because botnets are a major source of internet crime and they are looking for you to join their network!

How does a computer become part of a botnet?
Computers (using Windows or Mac operating systems) that are not updated and patched, not protected by current anti-virus programs, not firewalled, and/or are subject to users who are not using prudent computing/browsing behaviors can become infected.

  •   A security company did a test a few years ago to see how fast an unprotected computer on the internet would/could be hacked (discovered and infected).   It took 20 seconds!

Can I tell my computer is infected?
Not really.  A robot/zombie computer does not alert the owner that it is now part of a wicked army.  However, you might suspect malware on your computer if it runs unusually slow, crashes or stops responding frequently.  Be aware that the same problems might also point to hardware or software issues that have nothing to do with malware.

Botnets are profitable.
Botnets are multi-billion dollar, international businesses.  Botnets can be rented or sold for the purpose of gaining passwords, gaining/selling confidential information, committing identity theft, selling bank account information, to name a few things…

Profits

Botnets are dangerous
Compromised computers are used for many purposes just mentioned as well as distributing spam, spreading Trojan horses and other malware, bringing down huge entities like the Pentagon, large private companies like banks, governments and militaries.

How many botnets are there?
It was hard to get even an estimate that could be quoted.  But many sources share that some “armies” can have several million to hundreds of millions of computers enlisted for a single attack.  The number of botnets continues to grow as the number of computers joining the internet continues to grow as well.

What can I do with my computer to avoid being enlisted as a zombie?
Strengthen your computer’s defenses with some of the following strategies:

  1. Install antivirus and antispyware programs from a trusted source.
  2. Keep all software patched and up to date.
  3. Use strong passwords and keep them secret.
  4. Never turn off your firewall.
  5. Use flash drives cautiously.
  6. Do not be tricked into downloading malware

If you have questions about any of the points made in this post, please feel free to contact me at itcat101@gmail.com.

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How the HACK Did That Get On My Computer?

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Has this happened to you?  Out of nowhere, some “new” programs show up on your computer that you know you didn’t install; or changes have happened on your computer that you know you didn’t make.

For instance, your search engine of choice was Yahoo “Search”; but suddenly, Bing appears as your “Search” choice.  You know you didn’t choose it but now you are having trouble changing back to Yahoo “Search”.  Or something called “Yontoo” is now on your computer. You don’t ever remember installing it, but suddenly there are problems with your browser and coupons are popping up all over the place when you browse….

How the Hack did those things happen to my computer?

They happened because you probably allowed them to happen – unwittingly, of course.  I’ll explain how it happens if you promise to pay more attention to what you “click” on your computer…..

In the early days of internet browsing and downloading, a person could expect that what they wanted to download was what they were downloading.   As an example, let’s say I wanted to download the very good malware program (not an anti-virus program), SuperAntiSpyware.  To do this I searched for it on, say, Yahoo Search, and found the “free download” option for the program at superantispyware.com.   I selected the “free download” button, then followed the install instructions by clicking “Next” until my expected program was installed and running on my computer. Simple, easy, comfortable — almost mindless…

Smart marketers didn’t miss the “almost mindless” part and started to capitalize on that little click, click, click habit we developed.  Counting on our click on Next habit and on our not paying attention to what Next really was, marketers started loading their product programs into the download/install packages that we were actually intending to download. Consequently, we unwittingly began to load unintended programs onto our computers because we didn’t read what we, by habit, were mindlessly clicking Next to…..

Here’s an example, with screen shots, that I did to download SuperAntiSpyware (still a great malware program) today onto a computer. This is a bit lengthy, but please stick with it. I think it is something you’ll be glad to know….

First Screen Shot below: For this example, I did a search for “superantispyware free download”. The search returned choices from various sites. The official site – superantispyware.com was listed third. Something to learn from this:

o Start with a wise search for your product download. The Search process and site selection are important in order to avoid getting all the additional stuff we don’t want to get on our computers.

o Going to the official site of the product you desire will lessen the chances of getting “bloatware”, the unwanted programs that are added to your download experience.

The Second Screen Shot below shows the “download” directions that I would expect for SuperAntiSpyware. The top of the download instructions looks official. However:

o If I don’t read the screen and am in the habit of clicking “Next or “Accept” I will not notice I just agreed to install a product other than what I intended.

o The only choice here is DECLINE, if I don’t want the bloatware.

The Third and Fourth Screen Shots below show the blatant comfort of the marketer to trick me. There are 4 or 5 additional product installs that are presented before I get to the real live install option for my intended product.

o By this time, I might have become aware of the tricky marketing maneuvers and I will finally click DECLINE. Up to this point, however, I might have welcomed, unwittingly, the new products.

o Often, however, there are only 1 or 2 additional products on only one page that I probably will miss, unless I learn how to read before I click. I was had and will probably be had again…..  Unless I learn the….

LESSONDon’t click on Next or Accept unless I know what those words mean and I mean to click on them! DECLINE might just become my next click habit….

OK, I think I get it, but what do I do about the programs that I unwittingly installed before I knew better?

Fortunately the answer to that situation is usually to uninstall them through the Add/Remove Program option in the Control Panel.

• (Windows)   Start > Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs

• (Mac)  Finder > Application > Select Program > Rt Click for “Move to Trash”

• Some programs, however, are more aggressive and resist that approach. In that case you might need professional assistance.

If you have questions about this post, please feel free to contact me. I ACCEPT all questions and am happy to be able to direct you toward safer computing!

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Beware of Fake “Fix” Alerts!

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DontClickX

Beware of fake “Fix” Alerts!

Make a pledge to yourself today to NEVER CLICK on anything that says something like “Your Computer is Infected – Click Here to Scan Now” to begin the promised fix!

DON’T DO IT!  DON’T CLICK!   That invitation to CLICK is likely to be a way to get you to buy their clean up program or worse, to infect your computer rather than clean it. If you know the story of Hansel and Gretel, then clicking is like being invited to lunch by the wicked witch. Her invitation was really an invitation to BE lunch…. (If you don’t know their story, it is worth a search – good fairy tale with a lesson…)

The” invitation” to CLICK HERE is an example of “Scareware” – software that appears to be beneficial but actually attempts to lure users into participating in something that endangers the security of the user and/or their computer.

If you do click on the “invitation” and can do so, run a virus scan as soon as possible (with an up-to-date anti-virus program).  However, the “invitation” often infects your computer to the point it disables your anti-virus program. At that point, you will probably need professional technical assistance to remove the rogue software and restore the computer to health.

Staying Current

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Do I Really Need an Anti-Virus Program for my PC? Laptop? Mac? iPad?

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PC, Laptops, even MacBooks, iMacsYES!!!

iPadsNo, NOT YET, if it is not jail-broken…..(Jail-broken means that someone has altered the iPad to allow it to install/run non-Apple approved software, among other things…)

Why don’t iPads need anti-virus protection but other computers do?

The iPad is, so far, protected from vulnerabilities and attacks by a process called sandboxing — meaning that the operating system on an unaltered iPad restricts/controls programs that can be installed and run on the device.  Actually, an iPad presently will not even allow an anti-virus program to be installed on itself.  However, an iPad that has been jail-broken IS vulnerable to malware attacks.

What about Macs?

Once upon a very recent time, Macs were considered immune to virus/malware attacks.  One reason was that hackers and virus creators concentrate on opportunities that are profitable, and until recently, the Mac market was just not big enough to attract the interest of the malware “industry”.  It was the Windows/PC market that was the most profitable for the cyber criminal because there were just more PC/Windows operating system computers “out there” than there were Macs.  However, as that balance has quickly shifted and Macs have become a trend and a device of choice, hacks and viruses are now active threats to Mac operating system devices.  So, please!  If you are a Mac user, don’t be fooled by old news and put yourself at risk for identity theft, drained bank accounts and all the other tragedies that befall unprotected computer users because you believe your Mac is secure from attacks!

So, why do I need an anti-virus program, even if I seldom use my computer?

You need a good anti-virus program on your computer for the same reason you need to lock your house or your car, even if you are just going to the store for a few minutes.  An unprotected computer is like a house with a big sign on it that says “Open House – Thieves Welcome”.  Anti-virus programs, like locks are one layer of protection you use to keep your possessions protected from those who want to take what you “have” — and are very good at doing so….

Cyber crime is a multi-billion dollar industry and growing rapidly.  Viruses and other malware are tools of the cyber criminal.   Viruses and malware are no longer just nuisances created by junior geniuses who have nothing better to do. Creating malware is big money for the creators. Malware and viruses are stealthy and often “silent” tools to steal your passwords, your account numbers, your files, your identity, to name a few important items, or to gain undetected control of your computer to join a botnet with even more nefarious intentions, including a threat to national security.  Malware are insidious threats because they grow/change in multiples daily.  So even a good anti-virus program that is not updated daily is as good as a lock with the key in it….

Please do not be fooled into thinking that your infrequency of use or even your cautious behavior dictates the lack of need for computer protection.   Your computer needs excellent protection – current and up-to date, at all times!  Please don’t be fooled by old information.  Believing old and outdated information regarding computer anti-virus protection can cost you everything you have, not just a few files or even a computer….

Hope for a DogGone Computer…

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DogGoneComputer?  Do you own one?   Maybe you do…

Possibly you paid good money for your computer for its supposed “pedigree”.  The puppy mill computer seller you bought it from promised help raising it, training it – promised that it will become your trusted and always ready friend.   You felt comfortable with your computer purchase and rightfully expected it to perform because it’s from a line of champions – computer names that are always in the forefront of tech news; trend setters.  And you planned to win with this puppy, taking you both to pinnacles of peak computing performance.

Or maybe you bought a no-name mutt from a friend who needed money and no longer had an affectionate relationship with his computer and you felt good about rescuing it from the scrap heap.  All you wanted, anyway, was a companion to go to the Internet with and meet some friends.

But, just like with doggies, hopes, expectations and warm mushies have a way of morphing into other realities when you arrive home with your new companion, ready to begin a new life together.  What you thought was going to be your low maintenance, faithful friend, work mate or fun cyber companion – has become an “animal” with a seeming mind of its own.  It might have chewed up and destroyed that document you worked days on for your big sales presentation; or it went out for an “update” but now refuses to come back at all; or you suddenly find it is hanging out with some rogue rascals and causing you serious security challenges; or it just refuses to follow commands, taking its good old time to respond to any of your requests.

So, now that you think you own a DogGoneComputer, what can you do about it?  Well, there are lots of possibilities to answer that question – some costly but unnecessary and some cost effective and practical.  At DogGoneComputers, we believe that “A computer, properly trained, can be one of man’s best friends.”

And that is what this blog is dedicated to doing – offering strategies, tips and best practices that will help your computer get out of the dog house and go from being a DogGoneComputer to a DogGoneGreatComputer……