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Is Your Computer Committing Cybercrimes?

Last time, we told you about efforts by Microsoft to stop the cybercrime operation known as Zeus. Zeus hackers use a network of infected computers, known as botnets, to steal personal information from computer users.On March twenty-third, officials seized computer servers in two states, Pennsylvania and Illinois. The servers were said to be operating some of the worst known Zeus botnets. Richard Boscovich is with the Digital Crimes Unit at Microsoft. He says the operators of the servers did not know they were linked to cybercrime. He says, "The hosting providers in and of themselves are not necessarily in cahoots with the criminals." Zeus botnets are positioned all over the world.

Mr. Boscovich says they act as command and control centers for the infected computers. It's not just one botnet but probably hundreds of different botnets that come from this particular code base, he says. And, he says, the Zeus botnets are not easy to identify. These command and control centers are constantly moving. So it takes a lot of effort to be able to identify where they were, or where they are and where they are going to be. Microsoft says it is studying information gathered from the servers that were seized. It hopes to gather more evidence against the unidentified Zeus operators. It also hopes to identify and notify the more than thirteen million computer users that have been infected with the Zeus malware.

Mr. Boscovich says there are many things that users can and should do to protect themselves from harmful software programs. At the very least, he says, they should be using legitimate software that has been purchased from creditable providers. And he says every computer must have current anti-virus software. Most of all, Mr. Boscovich says, computer users must be careful about e-mails. In his words, "The bad guys are extremely adept at sending e-mails that appear to be from friends, from family members or from banks or companies."Microsoft is not alone in targeting botnets.

Security experts from CrowdStrike, Dell SecureWorks and other companies took down a large botnet known as Kelihos in March. As quickly as Kelihos was stopped, researchers say cybercriminals began working to build another botnet. Also, the European Union announced steps to fight cybercrime. These include plans to establish a new cybercrimes center in The Hague.

For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal. For more about the Zeus botnets, go to (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 09Apr2012)