Botnets - A Cybercriminal’s best friend that fetches your computing power

Traditionally, humans have kept pets - like cats, dogs, and bees. However, Cybercriminals have a new type of pet to take care of - botnets. The interesting thing about these virtual creatures is that the Cybercriminal does not even have to feed them - their victims do, giving them all the computing power they need without the victim knowing.

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What is a botnet?

A botnet is a collection of devices (PCs, Macs, servers and mobile devices) connected to the internet, infected with malware without the owners knowledge. Often these botnets sneak onto a computer without warning, and once infected, the device turns into a zombie computer. Hackers and cybercriminals then use the Zombie computer’s processing power for a variety of reasons.  

Unlike spear phishing where cybercriminals will complete a targeted attack, the purpose of a botnet is to infect as many computers as possible. Once installed, the botnets are used for a range of purposes such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), cryptocurrency mining and distributing ransomware.

What is a botnet used for?

A botnet is used for a range of purposes. However, primarily they are used for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), cryptocurrency mining and distributing ransomware.

  1. A botnet’s role in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) is to bring down a website (or server) by consistently sending and communicating with it at as high a rate as possible. It may not sound like much, but when a botnet is made up of thousands of computers, it can be quite powerful - imagine thousands of people trying to communicate with you at once - eventually, you would become overwhelmed and break down. Cybercriminals attempt to achieve the same thing with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

  2. Using botnets to mine cryptocurrency is big business for cybercriminals. Once the malware is installed, they also silently install mining software that uses the computers processing power to create a crypto coin. Once the coins have been processed, the cybercriminals transfer the coins to their wallets and leaves the victim with an under performing device and higher power bills.

    Recently crypto-mining has been in the news due to the Smominru miner

    This botnet turned infected devices into miners of the Monero cryptocurrency, making its owners around $3.6m in just a few months.

  3. Last but not least, there is the distribution of cryptolocker and other ransomware attacks. A botnet is installed on the device, and the cybercriminal will use the unsuspecting victim to distribute cryptolocker. Using this method means that it is much harder for cybercriminals to get caught.

Can Botnets be used for good? 

YES. Similar to developments like ride share where you can lease your car when you are not using it. Some individuals allow others to use their device while it is idle.

Sites like BONIC are utilising this technology for volunteer computing. BONIC use the idle time on your device (computing power). By using your computers processing power during idle time, to cure diseases, study global warming, and do many other types of research. 

The possibilities are endless, in the years to come we may be able to utilise this technology to run on our organisations with shared computing power. Think about it as you are reading this article, millions of computers are idle in different time zones. 

How can you protect yourself against botnets?

There are a few ways you can protect your organisation's computers against botnets

A botnet relies on two things:

  1. Being installed
  1. Communicating with the outside world

Having An advanced AV will stop both a botnet from installing software on your computer as well as prevent it from communicating to the outside world.

The other way you can prevent a botnet from functioning is advanced firewall which can prevent the malware from communicating to the outside world.

Conclusion

Botnets are just one of many tools that cybercriminals use to exploit organisations. However, the technology itself can be used for good and just possibly it could reduce the energy we consume today and in the future. Are you ready for UberPC?

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Posted by Lachie Dixon

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