Number of hijacked PCs increasing

The number of “zombie PCs” is escalating rapidly, said McAfee in a report. Incidents involving “bot” codes have reached 13,000 in Q2 2005, quadrupling the number tracked by McAfee during the first three months of the year, according to the report.

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By  Caroline Denslow Published  July 17, 2005

The number of “zombie PCs” is escalating rapidly, said McAfee in a report. Incidents involving “bot” codes have reached 13,000 in Q2 2005, quadrupling the number tracked by McAfee during the first three months of the year, according to the report. McAfee has placed the number of machines exploited by bot programs and by spyware and adware to have grown by 63% in the first six months of the year compared to the whole of 2004. Bot programs propagate via chat room servers and file-sharing networks, security experts said, and often go undetected by PC owners. This makes it easy for virus writers to create a network of systems that it can remotely control to launch attacks on other computers and web sites, spread spam or steal data. Bot programs mainly targets computers running the Windows operating system. Spyware and adware are also installed in a similar manner as a zombie program, but unlike its more sinister cousin, they are created to report users’ browsing habits and deliver pop-up ads. McAfee said it saw a 12% increase in the number of new unwanted programs created in the past three months, compared with the previous three months. The reported number of overall computer security vulnerabilities has also climbed by 5% in the second quarter, compared with the same period last year, exceeding 1000 on various computing platforms, the company said. Most of these attacks are being launched for financial gain, McAfee noted. Some attacks being used to steal financial data while others attempt to hold a person or a group ransom by gaining complete control over a machine or network. Several anti-spyware bills are already being reviewed by the US Congress to curb the widespread occurrence of such malicious programs and its damaging implications to users. Internet service providers are also being urged to crack down on zombie perpetrators, but McAfee fears that such actions will do more harm than good. “There are four anti-spyware bills working their way through [US] Congress to help tackle this growing problem, but we believe the problem is only going to get worse,” Vincent Gullotto, a McAfee vice president, said in a statement. McAfee also warned that researchers have discovered a new method for hacking cell phones using the Bluetooth wireless protocol. The technique allows an attacker with special equipment to connect to a Bluetooth handset without authorisation.

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