Welcome to our “Why Malware Happens” video series. This is where we examine malware and virtual crime from the perspective of outlaws and troublemakers, in order to discover their motivations.
In spy movies, you’ll often see scenarios where cybercriminals will come up with elaborate plans to hack into government databases. Usually, it’s to extract some very valuable information, or to take control of a nuclear weapon, or to transfer millions of dollars to a secret Swiss bank account.
And of course, this makes sense. But that’s not what hackers do in real life. Instead, they go after ordinary, boring everyday people. They exploit computers that are primarily used for video games and word processing. Why would criminals put their freedom at risk, just to exploit low value targets?
Believe it or not, there is a thriving international market for stolen computing resources.
Botnets are some of the most common examples of this. In a botnet, a virus would infect a large quantity of computers. And all of these computers would be placed under the control of a single hacker. The hacker would then offer these infected systems for rent, on the black market.
For a fee, you could write a single program, and have it simultaneously executed by millions of hijacked computers.
Here are a few examples:
- Botnets are probably most commonly used for email spam. By sending emails through millions of different computers, it becomes difficult for spam filers to differentiate between valid and malicious traffic.
- DDoS — or Distributed Denial of Service – attacks are designed to overwhelm computer systems. If you suddenly flood a web site with malicious traffic from millions of computers, it will cause that web site to crash and be taken offline.
- Brute force attacks are designed guess passwords through trial and error. According to a recent study, “123456”, “password” and “12345” were the most commonly used passwords in 2015. A botnet could attempt logins on a list of 10 million email addresses in order to locate vulnerable accounts that could be used for other purposes. This is why strong passwords are important.
- Cryptocurrency botnets are the newest and potentially most profitable class of malware. These viruses use the victim’s processing power to mine for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In 2014, a virus which exploited a vulnerability in Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices was able to generate over $600,000 worth of cryptocurrency for its creator.
According to research conducted by a major antivirus company, botnets that focused on Linux servers were significantly more active than those targeting Windows servers. This is interesting, since Linux users have a reputation for being very security savvy. But it also makes sense because Linux systems are much more desirable targets. They have powerful networking capabilities, and are usually linked up to much faster Internet connections than Windows PCs.
It’s also important to note that this gap between Windows and Linux botnets has been closing for the past few years.
It’s true that your computer may not be a high-value target. But if a piece of malware is able to infect enough machines, criminals can sell these resources for a hefty profit. That’s why you need to protect yourself.
- Pick strong passwords.
- Back up your data.
- Invest in strong anti-virus software.
- And always practice good digital hygiene.
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