A Private, Public Approach to Internet Safety

With the threats of spam and other illegal activities, tech companies and government agencies are coming together more and more to promote Internet safety.

Microsoft and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today reminded consumers to keep their computers secure.

The organizations made the announcement to coincide with Cyber Security Awareness Month and used the opportunity to let consumers know the efforts they’ve put toward fighting the spread of illegal activities. And with Halloween around the corner, the zombie tie-in seemed appropriate.

Microsoft has been paying close attention to the spread of computer zombies and their attendant use among the unsavory elements of the Internet community. Windows, as the dominant PC operating system, is impacted by consumers who find their PCs has become the launch pad for phishing attacks and the like.

In many cases, a degradation in system performance is the only hint the computer has been compromised.

“In the past two years we’ve seen what I would describe as an escalation in the use of zombies,” said Tim Cranton, Microsoft Internet safety enforcement programs director, “and in just the past few months it’s probably been more of a constant growth.”

One of the company’s efforts to track down spammers has been to create a honeypot that mimics a zombied computer. Security experts then sit back and let the spammers do the rest.

In a 20-day span, Microsoft officials said, the machine received 5 million connection requests and processed 18 million spam messages (they prevented the computer from actually delivering those messages).

The 20-day effort led to a lawsuit filed in the Seattle courts in August against 13 unidentified spamming operations, Cranton said. Microsoft is still in the discovery phase of its litigation, he said, but hopes to have the names behind the operations within the next two to three months to add to the lawsuit.

Earlier this month, the FTC launched OnGuardOnline.gov, a Web site filled with tips for consumers to protect their machines and its information.

The agency also launched Operation Spam Zombies in May, an international effort to encourage ISPs to take anti-zombie measures on their network.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, National White Collar Crime Center, the FBI, Monster Worldwide and Target are teaming to launch an Internet fraud initiative.

The effort is described by Monster officials as a new education and awareness campaign, though details on the initiative won’t be discussed until the organizations make their announcement Monday.

Michele Pearl, Monster Worldwide vice president of compliance and anti-fraud, said the downside of doing business on the Internet is dealing with fraud. As one of the top online classified sites, she said, they’ve been working for the past two years to protect its users from fraudulent activity.

The partnership with government agencies, she said, will help the company take fraud prevention to the next step.

“It’s really a good opportunity for us to join forces with the people who are actually fighting the fraud,” Pearl said. “We can’t do much more than try to keep it away from our site and our consumers, but wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing to actually help get rid of some of it.”

Security firm CipherTrust said it discovers on average more than 169,000 new zombied systems wreak havoc on a daily basis. China leads the world, according to the firm’s latest statistics, in the number of affected systems at 21 percent, but it is closely followed by the U.S. with 13.5 percent.

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