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Arun Marballi

In my column a couple of months ago, I had hinted at the potential of cyber-terrorism. Can you imagine what would happen if terrorists decided to use the Internet to launch a cyber-terrorism attack? The entire infrastructure of the country could be severely affected – banking, insurance, the stock market and the government could be paralyzed. That such a scenario is not far from the realm of possibilities may be indicated by the recent arrest by German police of an Iraqi named Ibrahim R., who purportedly was Osama bin Laden’s Webmaster.

Admittedly, a Webmaster primarily puts up Web sites. However, where there is a Webmaster, there also is a computer-networking infrastructure. And where there is a computer-networking infrastructure, there are bound to be other computer specialists, perhaps with as much passion for terrorism as bin Laden, looking for ways to promote his cause. A worrisome scenario, indeed!

Exacerbating this troublesome picture is a recent report in Information Week magazine claiming that thousands of government computers may already be under the control of cyber-criminals through the deployment of software ‘bots (robots) – malicious software that turns computers into remotely controlled “zombies.” Trend Micro, a computer security company, which has been examining this trend (no pun intended), has identified numerous government organizations, including the Department of Defense, some research institutions and certain universities as being “bot-bitten.”

Unfortunately, nobody is immune from the Bot Attack. These objects end up on computers in dozens of ways, including known and unpatched vulnerabilities in the operating system or other software, presence of other viruses that open back-doors into the computer’s internals and malicious files downloaded as e-mail attachments. Once installed, Bots can respond to commands received from an Internet Relay Chat server and can coordinate or act as part of a bot-network.

Many of these bots use other clandestine modes of communication and some of them include key logging and screen-capture capabilities that can enable data and identity theft. Symantec (another computer security company) reported that in the first six months of this year, it discovered 4.7 million distinct computers being actively used in bot-networks to send spam, launch denial-of-service (DoS) attacks and install spyware for logging keystrokes enabling identity theft. Perhaps, the only defense that we have for protecting our computers is to diligently update our operating system, anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and all the myriad other software installed by us on the computer over time. Additionally, we must adopt a defensive driving philosophy of not opening unknown or unexpected attachments, impulsively not clicking on links in e-mails that appear alluring and generally not visiting questionable Web sites.

How much harm can result if your computer gets “bot-bitten,” you ask? Well, consider the report that just came out in the Computerworld relating to the Internet Service Provider, British Telecom (BT). It appears BT has launched an automated system to identify professional spammers and “botnet”-infected features, which is a good thing, but it also has problems with some Web applications that may not be architecturally compatible with it. So, the general consensus appears to be to defer this update for the time being by temporarily suspending automatic Operating System updates until the IE7 kinks have been worked out.

Arun Marballi has worked in the Information Technology arena for more than 20 years with extensive experience in software development, process design and network/workstation management. For comments, questions, tips or suggestions, e-mail


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