A robot network consisting of thousands or millions of computers linked together to create tremendous amounts of computing power, ready to do their evil master’s bidding with just one click.  It may sound like the plot of the latest sci-fi thriller, but this is 100% non-fiction.

Also known as a zombie army (yes, really), a botnet is a collection of computers or “zombies” that have been compromised by malware, such as worms or viruses.  Hackers can use malware to create “back doors” in the infected computers, which allow them to remotely control the computers for their own purposes.  Botnets give hackers anonymity and bandwidth to infect more computers, send out millions of spam messages (botnets reportedly send out nearly 90% of e-mail spam), terrorize companies and networks with Denial-of-service attacks, and commit other types of cybercrime.

One of the world’s largest botnets, the Mariposa botnet, operated out of Spain, reportedly consisted of over 12 million infected computers in 190 countries, and was used by hackers to steal personal information, send spam, and launch cyber attacks.  The criminal gang that ran the botnet even rented it out to third parties.  Bet you won’t find THAT at your local rent-a-center.  Mariposa was taken down by Internet security groups and law enforcement in 2010 but, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of other botnets are still in operation today.

So how do you know if your computer is part of a botnet?  The symptoms are the same as in any kind of malware infection – a slow running computer or connection, a tendency to crash, and strange messages and pop-ups.  But there might be no signs at all.  To protect your computer from becoming part of a botnet, follow the tips in’s sections on malware and related topics in Privacy & Security.

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Make a website or internet resource unavailable or non-functional, generally by bombarding it with traffic/bogus requests or disrupting components

Data that can be used to identify you, like your name, address, birth date, or Social Security number

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