A bot is a Trojan horse with complete control of an infected system. It can be used to attack and spy. It can destroy files, connect to addresses on the Internet, and forward your email -- whatever makes the most sense financially for the attackers.
Conficker's P2P architecture makes it difficult to follow and destroy than most other botnets. On April 1st, it starts using a new algorithm that will make following it even harder, but that's about it.
I haven't followed Conficker closely, but I've been asking questions about it. The answer I feel is most accurate was provided by Joe Stewart of SecureWorks, who also wrote this article on Conficker): "The Conficker threat will be exactly the same as it is today, on April 1st."
Perhaps putting a date on the threat makes people feel more comfortable. What if something happens on May 3rd? Whether or not we're warned about that date, we're likely to ignore it if April 1st comes and goes quietly. Like Y2K, we'll feel cheated and try to find who cried wolf so we can hang him.
It's possible Conficker will send spam or, less likely, attack the Internet infrastructure. All we know for sure is that the worm itself won't be much different tomorrow.
We fear Conficker much like we feared the Storm worm. These criminals have a power over us that we can not truly free ourselves from. They show us once more than the Internet is ruled by the might of arms, and not by who makes money by owning yet another DNS top-level domain.
While we enjoy having "stakeholder meetings" with governments and the private sector -- mainly whining about who runs ICANN and civil rights online -- the Russian mafia has not been invited or recognized as a threat to the safety of the Internet. They make more money, have more raw power, and willing to use it even if it hurts their businesses.
As for Conficker, few efforts are under way to fight it, run by good, solid people. Antivirus vendors have added detection, and new network scanners are available.
The hype, however, has been ridiculous. The security and antivirus industries have not had this much PR fun since 2003 with the big worms. I'm sure some of the protected hosting companies sold quite a bit with their "we defend against Conficker" products.
Yes, Conficker is a real threat. But the rest is just hype.
Follow Gadi Evron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gadievron
Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading.