In those old B-grade movies from years ago undead zombies shuffle around with arms outstretched doing the bidding of their evil masters. In 2004 as many as 30,000 Windows computers per day are being turned into Zombie networks which spread spam and viruses to the rest of us. The zombie computers may also be used to attack websites or to steal confidential information.
Zombie computers can be remotely controlled without the knowledge of their owners and used to churn out millions of emails many loaded with spam or viruses. Spam now makes up about 60 per cent of all email traffic, running into billions of messages a day.
Meanwhile, in the first half of 2004 about 4,500 Windows viruses and worms were released, most of them a serious threat. A recent US security report suggests that it will take only 20 minutes on average for an unprotected Windows PC “fresh out of the box” to be infected after it is connected to the internet.
So what does this mean for you?
Well, it means that you’ll be receiving ever more spam. You’ll have to work harder and harder to sift out the legitimate email messages.
It means that if you use the Windows operating system you need to download and install every single patch Microsoft makes available. You need to check every day for updates to your antivirus and anti-spyware software. Your computer could become a zombie if you don’t take steps to protect it.
Don’t ever open an email attachment without first scanning it with up-to-date anti-virus software. The same goes for any files which come into your computer, eg by downloading them from a web page, or via floppy disc or CD, or across a network. Don’t open anything if it comes from a stranger and you weren’t expecting it.
If you also use a broadband internet connection (such as cable modem or jetstream, for example) you need to switch on a firewall to protect your computer. If you don’t know what that means, then you need to get someone who knows what they’re doing to help you.
It would be a good idea to stop using Internet Explorer for Windows for your web browsing and switch to one of the many other web browsers available free, such as Opera, Firefox or Mozilla. Some cases of computer infection have come about simply by visiting web pages with Internet Explorer. If you prefer not to switch then be sure to update Internet Explorer to the latest available version. That might mean also upgrading your computer to Windows XP.
For a more radical solution look into switching away from the Windows operating system altogether. Macintosh OS X is a great deal safer out of the box than is Windows, and although the Microsoft Word and Excel software on both Windows and Macs can be affected by viruses there are currently no known viruses or spyware for Mac OS X in the wild.
If Mac isn’t your thing then look into Linux which is free, functional, adaptable and robust and which also has no known viruses in the wild.
Reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, October 2004.