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Even though it might sound like a friendly little creature from another planet, a botnet is anything but friendly and it captures its prey with the rapidity of a roadrunner and has a vicelike grip as strong as a snapping turtle (and it won’t let go when it thunders).

A botnet (robot network) is actually a type of malware used by an attacker, known as a ‘bot herder’, to take control of infected machines or devices, including mobile devices. A bot is created by a Trojan that has been coded to join a certain chat room, and multiple bots can join in on one channel controlled by the attacker. A ‘bot herder’ attacker uses automated techniques to send instructions over the internet or a network to install the ‘bot’ (malware) program on the device(s). The bot herder targets vulnerable systems, such as older systems, or devices that have not been updated with security patches. The infected machines or devices are sometimes called ‘bots’ or ‘zombies’. Bots are especially good at performing repetitive tasks. The bot herder can install the bots on a single or multiple devices, and these ‘herds’ of bot machines, called zombies, can be used to attack or infect other machines. When a network or group of devices have been taken over and are under the control of the same attacker, it is known as a ‘botnet’. Once a bot herder takes control of the botnet, which can be done in minutes, the data and resources of the connected systems controlled by the botnet can no longer be controlled by the legitimate user. The bot herder controls the botnet through a ‘command-and-control’ server by communicating instructions over the internet or network to collect data, monitor a user, or other control actions. They can use botnets to distribute spam emails, spread viruses, commit fraud and identity theft and attack computers and servers, even going so far as to prevent the legitimate user access by submitting large numbers of requests to a webserver and overloading it, or bombarding victims with unwanted phone calls. This is known as a DDoS – distributed denial of service attack. Bot herders can even rent their ‘herds’ to other cybercriminals to use while still maintaining control.

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