Internet robots, or bots, are self-propagating malicious programs that spread to form a network of bots—a botnet. Computers become compromised by online criminals, usually without the knowledge of the real owner, and can silently engage in all manner of cybercriminal activity at the remote command of a hacker overlord (known as a “botmaster”).
Bot infection methods can include: downloading a virus-infected program, infection via a worm, or more sophisticated methods such as a “drive-by” infection in which users infect their systems by simply visiting a website. The botnet controller can either operate the botnet for malicious purposes or sell this control to others who wish to attack specific targets. Examples of malicious actions from botnets include distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, malware, spyware, spam, and data theft.
How Should You Protect Your Computer?
Here’s what you can do to reduce the chances of being compromised:
- Run anti-virus software, and make sure that you keep it updated. Run other security software, including a firewall, to make your computers less vulnerable to attack. Keep your other software — apps and operating system — updated too. New vulnerabilities are found all the time, some of which are exploited by malware authors in their attempts to grow the size of their botnet.
- Consider enabling automatic updates if you find updating your software a tiresome nuisance.
- Be wary of clicking on links or opening attachments in unsolicited emails — there could be malware lying in wait.
- Don’t forget your smartphones. Although most botnets are comprised of Windows and Mac computers, there have also been notorious incidents of botnets powered by other devices running other operating systems.