One of cybercriminals' favorite ways to carry out criminal activities is through botnets. They use spam, phishing attacks, or malicious websites to infect computers, turning them into "bots" or "zombies" that can be remotely controlled. Under cybercriminals' command, these bots generate a healthy revenue stream for their owners, targeting and stealing from businesses. As technology improves and becomes more accessible, bots are becoming the tool of choice for crime.
A Trend Micro study found that of 100 million compromised computers, approximately 25 percent belonged to businesses. It's good business for cybercriminals, but bad for small businesses.
Learning the Lingo
A zombie, or a bot, is a PC infected by malware that brings it under the remote control of a cyber criminal.
A botnet refers to a network of bots or zombie computers.
Phishing is a form of identity theft in which a scammer uses an authentic-looking e-mail from a legitimate business to trick recipients into giving out sensitive personal information, such as a credit card, bank account, Social Security numbers or other sensitive personal information.
Malware is short for malicious software. It is software designed to infiltrate a computer system without the owner's informed consent.
It's hard to know if your computer has been taken hostage to a bot. I always advise customers to immediately contact a security expert to fully assess the situation and then take action to clean and remove the bots. But if you're a small business owner, your first instinct is probably to protect your data, even before you call in the experts. Here are some initial steps to take:
First: Disconnect the suspected infected computer from the network. This will stop sensitive information from being stolen, prevent other computers from becoming infected, and will prevent your computer from being used in attacks on other businesses.
Second: Move sensitive data and information from the infected machine to a clean computer or external hard drive.
Third: Clean the infected computer either using free tools available (requires hooking computer back up to internet connection) or by working with a professional.
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Prevention is always better than a cure, and this is the same with regard to bots. Help prevent your business's computers from infection in the first place by following these quick tips.
- Ensure your antivirus is updated. It's a no-brainer, but computers are still being infected. Computers without the latest updates are not protecting your systems. However, updating can be tricky too, because security vendors need to be able to keep up with the latest threats without grinding their systems to a halt. It's important to find out how it's done, because if your PC becomes slow to a point where it impacts productivity due to the number of the updates, then you're just swapping one problem for another.
- Harden your Windows . Make sure your Microsoft Windows and main programs (Office, Adobe products) have the latest patches. Vulnerabilities in the operating system and other key programs provide easy access for the bad guys to compromise your systems. Cybercriminals are very familiar with these vulnerabilities and know how to exploit them.
- Take advantage of freebies. When you lock your door, do you twist the door handle just to make sure it's locked and secure? If you are satisfied with your current security vendor, but want to know you're protected there are a number of free tools available from reputable security vendors to not only help prevent bot infections, but also search your existing systems to see if you've been infected.
Cybercriminals are specifically targeting small- and medium-sized businesses, and have created a whole underground economy to profit from their illegal online activity. Unfortunately, the tool of choice, bots and botnets, are increasing in usage due to lower costs and improved functionality.
You can help prevent your small business from becoming part of a botnet by following these tips and by having a serious discussion with your IT administrator to make sure your systems are protected, and that your employees are educated.
Dal Gemmell is a senior global product marketing manager in the Trend Micro Small-Business solutions team. As a global product marketing manager, he works in partnership with regional leaders to drive sales and marketing efforts.