Are You Being Leveraged By an Illegal Botnet?

by Adam Gill

Criminal botnets are one of the very sad and scary aspects of our Internet. Just as our communities have their typical criminal elements, our Internet has these robot networks that serve online criminal gangs. Illegal botnets are usually set up to help cybercriminals access financial information that they can use to steal from users, but they have other purposes. Top VPN provider ExpressVPN has shared some information about these illegal networks and how they work.

The great minds that create and run these botnets access and control large numbers of computers, cameras, routers, and all manner of devices that are connected to the Internet or accessed by a system that is connected to an Internet-enabled device. Via the Internet, the master can not only access all the information that is on these devices, but can send them commands to do what he or she wishes. If your device has been commandeered by a botnet, then you are probably unwittingly part of criminal operations that spam people, sell illegal goods or services, mine Bitcoin, launch DDoS attacks, operate fraud schemes, and the like.

Are You a Target?

Do you have any computers or smartphones that you are not really maintaining but that are still connected to the Internet? You may still be using that device, but are not really paying much attention to how it runs or what programs you have on it. Botnet masters usually prefer using these types of devices since they are more easily controlled. They can get in and use the device’s computing power without the owner suspecting anything. These devices also usually have outdated software that leaves them vulnerable to the malware or viruses that the masters use to zombify your device.

Are you running a server? Servers are very attractive to botnets since they never go offline and so can be used around the clock. Servers are also allowed to connect to the Internet without restrictions, which means easy access for criminal minds. If your Internet Service Provider does not block certain services or ports to ward of these threats, then you could be a major target.

Do you have other Internet-enabled devices at home or in the office? These devices can also be recruited to one or more botnets. As long as the device is connected to the Internet, it can be found by scanning IP addresses. If it is found vulnerable, it can be recruited. One of the device types commonly recruited are routers. They are often online even when computers are not, and they are rarely updated for security even if computers are. With the Internet of Things, there are also TVs, refrigerators, alarm clocks, and loads of other appliances and common devices that can now connect to the Internet. All of these devices are at risk of becoming part of a botnet if they are not updated regularly.

What Your Devices Might Be Doing

If you are part of an illegal botnet, you could be involved in a number of illegal activities. Here are a few of those activities that you might be unknowingly contributing to:

• Spamming, Click Fraud and SEO Fraud – spam is a very old marketing method, and it is also used to spread malware, viruses, spyware and other malicious programs. Botnets are often hired by the hour to send out millions – and even billions – of email and other messages using your system resources and addresses. If you are part of one of these botnets, you can get blocked from the services or even get blocked from other websites when your account or IP address is tagged for spamming.

Click fraud is another marketing method that has become well-developed as the Internet has grown. Many websites make money from selling ad space, where they get paid every time a user views or clicks on an ad. These advertising networks can be manipulated by botnet masters when they create a website, sell ad space, then use the computers and other devices that they control to create false traffic to get paid. These botnet masters prefer to use residential connections for this since it looks real and so is not easily flagged as suspicious. Home users are therefore more at risk for this type of involvement.

SEO fraud is similar to click fraud in that it also makes use of botnet power to drive false traffic to a website. A lot of online businesses rely on SEO to increase traffic to their websites so that they can hook more customers. Google puts a lot of value on the popularity of a website, which makes it rank higher in the search results pages. Some unscrupulous businesses may be hiring botnets to get this result, and conscientious companies may be hiring unscrupulous SEO companies that do this.

• DDoS Attacks – Distributed Denial-of-Service is done to cripple a computer system by flooding the website or service with requests so that no one else can get through. Sometimes, the attack can also make the servers crash when they are overloaded and can no longer handle the queries. Some DDoS attacks are done as social or political protests, but many more are done to extort money from the administrators of the websites or online services that they attack. If you are in one of these botnets, then you are helping criminals to blackmail legitimate businesses and disrupting the services that other Internet users need.

• Illegal Sales and Bitcoin Mining – It is not easy to sell illegal goods or services online, and a botnet can be a big help. Since the devices that are being used are not owned by the master, anything sold cannot be traced back to the actual seller. It is also a lot cheaper since there is no need to pay for all that bandwidth, power, or storage space. So, on top of taking on the costs of such an operation, you will be involved in the sale of illicit materials if you are recruited into one of these botnets.

Bitcoin mining is a relatively new operation, but similar schemes have been pulled off with other cryptocurrencies. Because of the way that Bitcoin works, this cryptocurrency can be harvested and sold. Bitcoin mining requires a lot of computing power, which means that only large botnets can be used to make enough Bitcoin for the operation to be profitable. It is therefore not very common since larger botnets are easier to detect and the threat of getting shut down makes the job less than worth the risk.

If you are part of a botnet, it will unfortunately not be easy for you to find out. You can, however, look for the signs so that you can begin to protect yourself from it. First, think about your risk factor and take immediate steps to secure all your Internet-enabled devices by getting them updated. Wherever possible, install software that can detect and remove malicious programs. Update all your programs as well, starting with your browsers. If you find that you are not able to install updates to your operating system or anti-virus program, you may already be infected with malware. You need to seek professional help to get these infected devices cleaned up.

On your device, check to see if you have programs installed that you are not familiar with, and if these programs are taking up computing resources. Check your bandwidth consumption as well to see if it is being used by unknown programs. To do this, close all the programs that you have that connect to the Internet then see if you are still consuming bandwidth. Get help with removing such programs since they may or may not be part of your system and you don’t want to remove any programs that your device needs to run properly.

On the Internet, take note of how often websites ask you to enter captchas when you are just browsing and not logging into secure accounts or making payments. Observe as well how often websites block you.

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