Welcome to the world of botnets

It's dress-down Friday at Sunbelt Software's Clearwater, Fla., headquarters. In a bland cubicle on the 12th floor, Eric Sites stares at the screen of a "dirty box," a Microsoft Windows machine infected with the self-replicating Wootbot network worm. Within seconds, there is a significant spike in CPU usage as the infected computer starts scanning the network, looking for vulnerable hosts. In a cubicle across the hall, Patrick Jordan's unpatched test machine is hit by the worm, prompting a chuckle from the veteran spyware researcher. Almost simultaneously, the contaminated machine connects to an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) server and joins a channel to receive commands, which resemble strings of gibberish, from an unknown attacker. "Welcome to the world of botnets," said Sites, vice president of research and development at Sunbelt, a company that sells anti-spam and anti-spyware software. "Basically, this machine is now owned by a criminal. It's now sitting there in the channel, saying 'I'm here, ready to accept commands,'" Sites explained. A botnet is a collection of broadband-enabled PCs, hijacked during virus and worm attacks and seeded with software that connects back to a server to receive communications from a remote attacker. And these botnets are everywhere. According to statistics released by Symantec, an average of 57,000 active bots was observed per day over the first six months of 2006.

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