Battling Zombies and Botnets

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The Obama administration and major industry groups unveiled a new initiative Wednesday to battle the increasing number of networked computers that are being transformed into botnets. 

A botnet is a collection of computers that have been made into the tech equivalent of zombies -- computers that have been taken over remotely by a third party genearlly to conduct malicious online activities such as spread viruses, overload servers, and spread spam, among other things. It is estimated that 1 in 10 computers in the U.S. could be a zombie member of a botnet.

The initiative this week had three significant parts:

  • Principles for voluntary efforts to reduce the impact of botnets in cyberspace -- guidelines created by the Industry Botnet Group designed to collaboratively attack botnets.
  • "Keep a Clean Machine" -- an industry public awareness program designed to help the average user keep the Web "a safer place for everyone."
  • An information sharing effort -- a pilot program between the financial services industry and the internet service providers to share information on botnets.

Botnets are not new but as more and more individuals go online, the potential damage from them increases significantly.  In addition, the culling of data from botnets affects efforts to protect consumers from data theft and identity fraud.

While there have been numerous initiatives and campaigns around cybersecurity -- many of which have begun only to fizzle out -- the creation of the botnet initiative has merit. Botnets are very much the enemy within us (in cyberspace) that are harmful not only to the infected computers but to the larger networked community.  The more information the government and companies can share about botnets, the more likely we can start de-zombifying infected computers.