Botnets Biggest Cybercrime Threat: Microsoft Report

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Botnets are threatening corporate and home users worldwide in ever-increasing numbers, according to a new Microsoft security report.

Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) just released semiannual Security Intelligence Report (SIR) volume 9, which covers the period from January through June 2010, singles out botnets as the hub for much cybercrime in the world today.

"Botnets are the launch pad for much of today’s criminal activity on the Internet," Adrienne Hall, general manager of the Microsoft Trustworthy Computing initiative, said in a post to the Official Microsoft Blog on Wednesday.

"In many ways, they [botnets] are the perfect base of operations for computer criminals. Botnets are a valuable asset for their owners -- bot herders -- who make money by hiring them out to other cyber criminals to use as a route to market for cybercrime attacks, such as phishing attacks, spam attacks, identity theft, click fraud and the distribution of scam e-mails," she said.

Botnets are networks of computers that have been compromised via a myriad of means and turned into "bots" -- AKA "zombies" -- that can be used without the user's knowledge to help deliver all sorts of malware to other users.

By being careful about how and when the bots are used, infected computers can go undiscovered for years. Besides issuing reports every six months, Microsoft is part of an active network of law enforcement authorities and companies worldwide who are trying to cut down on cybercrime -- with a certain amount of success.

"Between April and June 2010, Microsoft cleaned botnet infections from more than 6.5 million computers worldwide," Hall said. That was twice as many as the same period a year earlier.

Hall's blog entry highlighted points from SIRv9, which she presented at the RSA Conference Europe 2010 in London, Wednesday.

Among other things, the twice-yearly reports help give Microsoft a bully pulpit via which to talk up what it deems the most pressing issues regarding security worldwide.

"The report indicates that user education and technology innovations across the industry are having an impact, but botnets remain a significant problem and more needs to be done to address the issue of cybercrime," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

It's a daunting task.

Among other top level facts in the report, for example, is that the U.S. has the highest number of botnet infections -- some 2.2 million, followed by Brazil with 550,000. In Europe, Spain has the most with 382,000.

As far as the highest rates of infections, Korea is highest with 14.6 computers per thousand cleaned, according to the report. Spain came in second with 12.4 computers cleaned per thousand, followed by Mexico with 11.4 per thousand.

"We must all work together to curb the cybercrime outlined in the SIR, and uphold our responsibilities to help keep online citizens safe from cyber criminals," Hall said.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

Follow eSecurityPlanet on Twitter @eSecurityP.