Prevent Cyber Crooks from Turning your Computer into a Zombie

Spybots, botnets, and malware all sound like something out of a sci-fi movie. But those are the tools that cyber criminals use to take over the computers of unsuspecting businesses and individuals. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.

A Bit on Cybercime

You’ve installed good deadbolt locks, a burglar and fire alarm system, cameras, and exterior lights. You’ve done everything right to physically protect yourself and your business, and yet your business has been breached by criminals via your computer.

Cyber crime is a growing threat that can harm your business as well as your personal life. Cyber criminals are smart, technologically proficient, and bold. Fortunately, law enforcement is getting better at catching them, and one cyber criminal, who signed his instant messages “crime pays,” was sentenced on March 4th to four years in federal prison and given a $2,500 fine. The sentencing ended the first prosecution of its kind in the country.

According to the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, John Schiefer was associated with the “botnet underground” and used his “botnets,” which are armies of compromised computers, to commit identity theft throughout the country by extracting information via personal computers and wiretapping communications.

With these compromised computers, called “zombie computers,” Schiefer used his botnets to search for vulnerabilities in other computers, intercept electronic communications, and engage in identity theft.

Schiefer admitted that he and his cohorts installed malicious computer code, known as “malware,” on zombie computers that captured electronic communications as they were sent from users’ computers.

Because the victims with zombie computers didn’t even know that their computers were infected and were “bots,” they continued to use them to engage in commercial activities, such as making online purchases and conducting business.

“While computer criminals have many technological resources at their disposal, we have our own technology experts, as well as a host of legal remedies to punish those who exploit the Internet for nefarious purposes,” said United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. “As Internet-based criminals develop new techniques, we quickly respond to their threats and prosecute those who compromise our ability to safely use the Internet.”

What You Can Do

To protect yourself from cyber crooks, you should do the following:

  • Consult with a computer security expert.
  • Install and update anti-virus and anti-spyware programs.
  • Install firewalls to protect your computer from unauthorized intrusions.
  • Change your passwords often.
  • Disconnect your computer when not in use.

“Los Angeles has been on the front lines in the war against botnet herders and those who utilize their product,” said Salvador Hernandez, the assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “As demonstrated by the Schiefer investigation, criminals increasingly use computers to facilitate a variety of illegal activities. As technology advances, so do the techniques that engineers of cyber crime use to exploit the vulnerabilities of computer systems and users. Through the use of cutting edge techniques, the FBI is meeting the evolving threats in cyberspace by identifying and building cases on the worst offenders.”

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