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Botnets like all other technology can be used for good or bad purposes depending on the intent of the user. A good use of botnets is by search engines when they automatically index web pages. Bad botnets are typically used with spam to distribute malware or to generate massive denial of service attacks.
A bad botnet simply is an unlimited number of infected individual computers without each owner’s knowledge or permission that is typically controlled from a central remote location at the whim of the botnet owner. Criminal purposes can vary from distributing malware to identity theft to denial of service attacks or to whatever else the criminal mind can imagine. It is now illegal for anyone in the USA to own or use a botnet for illegal purposes.
When a botnet is used for a denial of service attack, the botnet owner triggers the start of the programs in each unsuspecting computer either through a predetermined time or location programmed into the distributed malware or at a whim. The energy resources used are from each computer connected to the botnet. Once the process begins, it is automatic. Every computer or electronic device connected to the internet is a possible pawn in a criminal botnet scheme. There can be an unlimited number (hundreds or even tens of thousands) of home computers and electronic devices across the world attached to a botnet where the owner has no idea his or her computer or device is involved.
One way to tell if your computer is part of a botnet (or infected with spyware) is to check the “sent items” folder in your email client for emails you didn’t send. Botnets are one of the reasons it is so important for each computer user to practice basic safety precautions. The Storm worm of 2007-2008 has finally seemed to lose its punch because many computer users have installed security updates, cleaned their hard drive or switched to another computer.
Unfortunately, with so many unprotected computers and electronic devices roaming the internet everyday, new pawns regularly seem to replace the computers and devices disconnected from the botnet. It is important for every internet user to accept responsibility for their personal online safety and maintain a clean hard drive in addition to installing the most recent security updates for all installed software.