Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Night of the Living Bots

Walk this way, master--It couldn’t last. The forces of virtue and honor--i.e., the guys who spend their time battling spam--had an all-to-brief victory last month. They managed to take down one of the leading spigots of spam, a boulevard of the botnets. Spam levels all over the world dropped by perhaps as much as 65%. It was a victory for the folks at the Security Fix column of the Washington Post, who managed to nail one of the worst offenders.

Botnets are networks of bots. For those of you still mired in the 20th century, a bot is a zombie that turns your computer into its slave. I knew that would be of help. It is a piece of malicious software that takes over your computer when you are not looking and sends out malware to the Internet, including spam, worms and Trojan Horses. [You do realize that 30 years ago that sentence would nave been totally incomprehensible]. There you are, working diligently and honorably while your computer is spewing out spam to the network and you probably don't notice, although it may get a little slow on Explorer. The largest botnets enslave millions of computers around the world, the reason why there has been so much concern in your inbox for you penis size (even if you don't have one), your pharmaceutical needs, and business transactions with the daughter of some Nigerian dictator.

Contrary to urban legends, botnets can take over Macs, but this is rare and requires the intercession of Windows servers. Same for Linux. Windows computers are the culprits.

Early in November, spam fighters shut down Mc Colo of San Jose, Calif,, one of the most notorious spam service providers, the result of a Post investigation. The result was instantaneous: according to Betanews.com, the net quieted down immediately. Among those botnets turned off when the plug was pulled were two of the most evil, Asprox and Rustock. Mc Colo also had the distinction of being one of the last American ISP providers doing spam.

No one in the zombie-watching business was sanguine. They knew the botnet folks would find a way around the break, probably by moving offshore to Eastern Europe, places like Estonia. Sure enough, late last week, spam traffic increased noticeably. Asprox and Rustock are back. Traffic levels haven’t reached pre-Mc Colo levels yet because the biggest of the botnets, something called Srizbi, hasn’t found a home. It has been the dominant force for the dark side since February, shooting out a Trojan horse. But no one doubts it is coming. It sucks in users by offering nude pictures of movie stars. Open the mail and your machine is theirs. I am as fond of Salma Hayek as the next man but even I am bright enough not to open mail from people I don’t know. And there aren’t any Windows machines around here.

In the meantime, I am Sandra Deloutrage, the widow of the late Nigerian President Murry Deloutrage. My husband left me $45 million in a bank in Croatia and I need your assistance in retrieving the money. You could buy a bridge...

1 comment:

Daro said...

I know you like polling... so I thought this one would interest you:

The website www.fivethirtyeight.com had a very in-depth technically expounded page predicting an Al Franken win by 27 votes on No.28. Now I see that Franken is ahead by 22 votes. Amazing prediction (if it holds) and scientifically based too. As I wrote in the comments on the article:
"what's wrong with you man? You're five votes out!!"


Ongoing result