(STAR) Enough for Transformers’ AutoBots and Decepticons. Let’s now talk about the real robots — the Web robots or more commonly called as “bots.”

Bots are here and they multiply faster than you can imagine, to turn your computers into zombies controlled by a botmaster to spread viruses, generate spam, and commit other types of online crime and fraud, without your knowledge.

The rise of bots is indeed alarming. In fact, according to Symantec’s latest Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), there are more than six million PCs infected with bots.

Here’s a primer on bots and botnets from Symantec, a global leader in Internet security, to help you better understand what a bot is and how it works.

What is a bot?

A bot is a type of malware that allows an attacker to take control of an infected computer. Also known as Web robots, bots are usually part of a network of infected machines, known as a botnet, which is typically made up of victim machines that stretch across the globe.

Since a bot-infected computer does the bidding of its master, many people refer to these victim machines as zombies. The cyber criminals that control these bots are called botherders or botmasters.

Some botnets might have a few hundred or a couple thousand computers, but others have tens and even hundreds of thousands of zombies at their disposal. Many of these computers are infected without their owners’ knowledge.

Some possible warning signs? A bot might cause your computer to slow down, display mysterious messages or even crash.

How bots work?

Bots sneak onto a person’s computer in many ways. They often spread themselves across the Internet by searching for vulnerable, unprotected computers to infect.

They can infect computers as a part of Trojan horse, through peer-to-peer file sharing, or as an attachment, an e-mail of instant messages (IM). When they find an exposed computer, they quickly infect the machine and then report back to their master. Their goal is then to stay hidden until they are instructed to carry out a task.

After a computer is taken over by a bot, it can be used to carry out a variety of illegal activities such as generating and sending spam, and spreading viruses.

It can also be programmed to steal personal and private information such as credit card numbers, bank credentials, user names and passwords and communicate these back to the malicious user.

Also, it can be used to launch denial of service (DoS) attacks against a specified target.

More commonly, however, the systems of everyday users are the targets of these attacks for the simple thrill of the botmaster.

Fraudsters also use bots to boost Web advertising billings by automatically clicking on Internet ads.

How to protect your PCs from bots?

As safeguards against malicious bots, security experts at Symantec advise consumers the following:

• Install security software to combat bots. Norton AntiBot is Symantec’s first dedicated solution to meet the growing bot and botnet epidemic;

• Configure your software’s settings to update automatically;

• Increase the security settings on your browser;

• Limit your user rights when online;

• Never click on attachments unless you can verify the source; and

• Ensure that your system is patched with the most current Microsoft Windows update.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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