An article in Bloomberg tells a harrowing story of computers that have secretly come under the control of hackers. This can happen to company and personal computers alike that download certain embedded malware – such as when downloading an email attachment. These computers become known as "bots," and part of a "botnet." The consequences can be crippling.
Accordingly to the article:
The enslaved “bots,” as the infected computers are known, have become so pervasive they now threaten the security of the Internet, said Gunter Ollmann, head of research at Atlanta-based Damballa Inc., which tracks botnet activity. At least 18 percent of home computers are now under remote command of cyber-thieves without their owners’ knowledge, according to Damballa’s research.
For corporate computers, which are usually protected by expensive security measures, around seven percent are controlled by such malware, which is hidden from the user and controlled via the Internet, Ollmann said.
When this happens, companies can find themselves in uncomfortable and potentially dangerous circumstances . . . consider the following exchange described in the Bloomberg article:
“I’m sure we can settle on control of bots,” a LulzSec hacker called Ninetales told Hijazi, according to a computer log of their interaction provided to Bloomberg News by Hijazi.
When Hijazi said he didn’t want to face extortion, another hacker named hamster_nipples replied: “Unfortunately, you have little choice at this point.”
Hijazi, who declined to identify his corporate clients, refused to comply with LulzSec’s demands and rejected a separate request for money. The hackers posted the company’s e-mails on the Internet June 3.
The harm that can result is significant. The Bloomberg article cites to one example of hackers controlling a botnet who sought to transfer nearly $1 million from one company. In other cases, hackers were successful in removing tens of thousands of dollars from bank accounts of affected companies.
Companies need to be more aware of these developments and take appropriate steps to protect their systems. While there are federal and state laws that require steps be taken to safeguard against these kinds of risks, the extent of damage that a botnet can cause to an entity’s business can be far more damaging.