Spanish police catch major botnet

March 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A major botnet bust overseas has shut down a multi-million-dollar cybercriminal operation, one that hijacked and infected millions of computers all over the world.

The network of almost 13 million virus infected computers included PCs from more than half of the fortune 1,000 companies and more than 40 big banks. The operation was called "The Mariposa Botnet." It is new term for many, but one that is familiar to the I.T. security experts attending the RSA conference in San Francisco.

"It's actually organized crime. It's literally new-age organized crime," says Taher Elgamal, a security expert from Axway Co.

A botnet is a collection of computers controlled by a bot-master, sitting somewhere in the world manipulating and extracting information from those computers. The scary thing is yours could be one of them.

Computers with lapses in security updates are the most vulnerable. The bot-master infects them with malicious software, then hides it in the PCs.

"So its hidden and its collecting all the information on your computer with keywords like social security numbers, credit cards, data loss, all of that sensitive information is being collected and its sent back to the bot-master," says Navneet Sigh, a Cisco Systems security expert.

The information is then sold to underworld contacts. The bigger botnets infect far more than the 13 million computers breached by the Spanish cybercriminals.

"Some of them can range into 25 million or 30 million for large ones," says Jeff Horne, a Webroot security expert.

So, how can we prevent these cyber criminals from hacking into our computers? The experts say be vigilant and keep updating your security programs.

"Any strange behavior that happens in the machine, it goes very slow or things like this, contact your antivirus vendor or whomever, the security vendor," says Elgamal.

Said one security expert, it is no longer genius kids just making mischief on the computer. Botmasters are cyber criminals with underworld ties, making money -- lots of it.