In Dan Simmons's award-winning Hyperion
science-fiction series, he writes about a universe in which humans physically travel vast distances of time and space almost instantaneously. In exchange for this amazing ability, the TechnoCore, a group of artificial intelligences, is able to use the tremendous processing power of the human mind for its own purposes.
I mention this because Simmons created a powerful metaphor for what is happening on the Internet today. The New York Times
that as many as 200,000 computers worldwide have been recruited to send out spam--unbeknownst to their owners.
So, in exchange for being able to go online, we're allowing spammers to use a portion of our computers' processing power, much the way Simmons's TechnoCore used the population's brainpower. Fortunately, there are some simple measures you can take to stop spammers from using your system to send out junk e-mail.
Open proxy servers
Why are spammers using your computer? To find a way around current spam-blocking procedures
. Most people block e-mail messages based on the point of origin. So, once a spammer is known, his or her messages will be blocked from your in-box. But if known spammers use other computers to do their dirty work, their e-mail messages have a better chance of making it through our defenses.
Why are spammers using your computer?
To get access to your system, spammers have taken a page from malicious computer users by using what are known as open proxy servers.
Proxy servers allow a computer to connect to the Internet indirectly by sending its Internet requests through another computer that is online. Thus, any attempt to trace an e-mail message or a hostile Internet connection back to its origin would point to that second, proxy computer.
Proxies have many legitimate and safe uses. When configured correctly, for example, they can allow several people to share one Internet connection at home or in a small office. But when configured to allow open access to anyone on the Internet, they become a security nightmare. Malicious users exploit these so-called open proxies to mask their true identity when committing crimes. Now spammers are taking advantage of this anonymity as well.
The Palyh worm
This is where your computer comes in. A new computer worm, which disguises itself as e-mail from Microsoft technical support, installs proxy servers on infected PCs without the user's knowledge. It's known as Palyh
, Mankx, or SoBig.B.
To get access to your system, spammers have taken a page from malicious computer users.
What can be done to stop this pest? First, make sure your computer is protected by a firewall. While firewalls can't fix security vulnerabilities on every PC, they do reduce the likelihood that remote users will be able to hijack your computer.
I believe that Internet service providers, especially those that offer broadband, should be required to provide firewall software to their customers. This was a provision of the original National Strategy to Protect Cyberspace, but didn't make it into the final draft signed by President Bush.
Firewalls and antivirus apps
If your ISP doesn't offer firewall protection, you can install a software firewall
on your PC. This, in addition to the hardware firewall in your router, will prevent unauthorized incoming and outgoing activity on your computer.
Second, make sure you have antivirus software
installed on your PC to prevent Palyh and similar worms from co-opting your system.
In Simmons's universe, humans decide to forgo faster-than-light travel rather than give the TechnoCore access to their brainpower. But I'm betting we won't all unplug from the Net just to stop spammers. Instead, make sure you and everyone you know takes the proper precautions by using antivirus software and firewalls. We may not be able to stop spammers, but we should be able to slow them down.
Are you worried about spammers taking over your PC? Is your computer protected with a firewall and antivirus software? Why or not? TalkBack to me!