Virus Could Blackout Nearly 250,000 PCs

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Some blogs and news reports hyped the risk of an outage, warning of a potential “blackout” and describing the Alureon malware as the “Internet Doomsday” virus.

Yet experts said only a tiny fraction of computer users were at risk, and Internet providers would be on call to quickly restore service. They said they considered the threat to be small compared with more-prevalent viruses such as Zeus and SpyEye, which infect millions of PCs and are used to commit financial fraud.

As of this week, about 245,000 computers worldwide were still infected by Alureon and its brethren, according to security firm Deteque. That included 45,355 computers in the United States.

The viruses were designed to redirect Internet traffic through rogue DNS servers controlled by criminals, according to the FBI. DNS servers are computer switchboards that direct Web traffic.

Information on how to identify and clean up infections can be found on a website that a group of security firms and other experts set up: www.dcwg.org.

“It’s a very easy one to fix,” said Gunter Ollmann, vice president of research for security company Damballa. “There are plenty of tools available.”

Many of the machines that remain infected are probably not in active use since most victims were notified of the problem, said security expert Johannes Ullrich, who runs the Internet Storm Center, which monitors Web threats.

The United States has charged seven people for orchestrating the worldwide Internet fraud. Six were arrested in Estonia, while the seventh, who was living in Russia, is still at large. Tallinn has so far extradited two of the men to New York where they appeared in Manhattan federal court.