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For a while now articles have been surfacing in newspapers and publications such as Business Week, about the lack of comprehensive security in government agencies such as NASA. But what if the hackers don’t need to infiltrate government systems to pose a serious threat to computer users and their privacy, much less national security? Via the cloud computing concept, all hackers would need to do is infect a large number of personal computers.
Cloud computing for the dark side
That’s precisely what it appears the malicious Conficker worm is trying to do. An estimated 12 million Windows machines have been infected since last October (Linux and Mac computers are not affected at this time, but you should still apply regular security updates). The Conficker worm has the ability to remove antivirus software and disable Windows update protections.
What does the Conficker worm do?
But the question you’re still wondering is – what exactly does the worm do? Security experts don’t know for sure, the only certainty is that the virus is scheduled to trigger on April 1, 2009. Will it be malicious or merely an April Fool’s joke? Based on an analysis of the worm’s code by security professionals, there’s a number of possibilities as to what the Conficker virus might do:
- Parallel computing – the Conficker worm could become a powerful parallel computer by taking control of all the PC’s it has infected and using them as one machine.
- Rent out a massive network – the perpetrators could then rent out their cloud computing network for malicious purposes.
- Peer to peer (P2P) network – Conficker could be used to create an intricate and complex peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing system, similar to the way Torrent operates.
- Dark Google, or Dragnet – the parallel network could be used to gather data from the millions of infected users, and make that data searchable via a Dark Google. This is potentially the most frightening implication of them all.
How to protect yourself against Conficker
Now that we’ve got you all stressed out and worried (sorry!), you can solace in the fact that you found this article and now have the opportunity to protect your computer from infection. Just follow these recommended steps:
- If you’re running Windows, please install and run Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool.
- When you run it, you can select “Quick Scan,” and it will check for Conficker and a few dozen other known issues. If you have time, you should also run the Full Scan.
- Make sure Windows Update is set to automatically check for and download patches for your system every day. You may even wish to set it to automatically install them.
- Make sure your systems are protected by a firewall. Preferably a hardware firewall, such as those sold by Linksys, but at least a software firewall, which all modern operating systems now offer (but which you may need to enable).
- Install anti-virus software, and make sure it’s regularly updating itself to get the latest malware signatures.
- Install and run Secunia PSI, which is a piece of software that can scan all of your installed third-party programs, and let you know if any are out-of-date, insecure, or unsupported. It also provides links to download any necessary updates for the software. This is the only tool we are aware of that has this capability — and many times, third-party applications are not being updated, even though they contain serious security risks.
- If you’re still using IE 6, please consider updating your Internet Explorer browser to the current version. You may also wish to try Mozilla Firefox, a popular browser that has a good security track record.