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Vulnerabilities / Threats

4/19/2007
06:55 AM
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Aliens, Protein, and Bots

Today's grids may be tomorrow's botnets

2:55 PM -- Bet you think botnets can't be used for anything good. But what about research computing grids like [email protected] and [email protected], which are basically networks of client machines used to expand computing resources for research purposes? (See Aliens Steal Laptop! and Botnets Battle Over Turf.)

"Think of SETI or Folding as a good botnet, being remotely controlled to do good stuff," says Randy Abrams, director of technical education for Eset.

Of course, SETI's alien-watching and Folding's protein research grids are legitimate and purely voluntary, he says, but their infrastructure poses some risks -- of a botnet operator gaining control of them to expand their armies, or security breaches opening the networks up to hackers. (SETI a couple of years ago was discovered to have bugs that could have turned the network over to a botnet's control.)

Abrams, who recently blogged about this, says he's actually more worried that if the research grid concept takes off, then eventually savvy commercial types will jump onboard with not-so-philanthropic grids of their own. "I can see real abuses of it," he says. A company could offer you a free secure digital card if you provide a few cycles of your PC when your asleep at night, but could instead use it for a spam run, he says. "Or 'let us collect information on how you use your computer, for our marketing research,'" he says, and they also download confidential information, unbeknownst to the user.

"'Grid' may well be tomorrow's euphemism for commercial botnet," he writes in his blog.

The commercial possibilities are creepy, for sure. But with botnets already battling one another for more drones, what's to stop them from trying to recruit thousands of alien-watchers?

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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