You’ve seen it in zombie movies: It starts as one and multiplies out of control. Zombies flood the screen and attack a helpless group of protagonists who hope to maintain their humanity as they’re stuck in a mall, warehouse or safe haven. Now take this concept and apply it to your own home. Except this time the zombies aren’t people, they’re appliances.
That’s right, a “botnet,” or a system of vulnerable devices that can be hijacked to create an army of “zombie” computers according to CNN, can overtake an unsuspecting person’s home and steal valuable information within the local area network that the problem has arisen. And this doesn’t just affect computers. Its reach extends to anything connected to the internet. Last year, an attack that threatened security at Netflix and Twitter was focused on the companies’ cameras. In the recent CNN article, Josh Corman, director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council proposed a bill that would require companies that provide the federal government with internet-enabled devices to meet basic security requirements. This would mean all devices, even some as seemingly harmless as a smart light bulb, will be expected to be able to receive software updates, have login credentials that can be changed by the user and come standard with no known vulnerabilities.
Now that you know what a botnet is, you might be wondering how to keep yourself safe from the threat. While there’s no end-all be-all solution to the problem, there are a few safety precautions that can help you avoid the issue altogether. One of the leading methods in which devices become susceptible to a botnet includes clicking on links, often sent through email, by phishers. Phishers are internet thieves that use various methods to steal personal information including credit card numbers, social security numbers, home address or date of birth according to an Inquirer.net piece. Often times they will try to accomplish this by sending their targets an email that appears to be official (maybe from a university or bank) asking for this information to complete an important task. Revealing any personal information can also lead to your computers or other devices in your local area network becoming part of a botnet, sometimes along with more personal information being acquired by cybercriminals and even footage recorded in the case of hacked security cameras.
It’s up to users to keep alert and recognize these phishers. If anybody asks for your information, always take note and do your research before giving away anything. Phishing attempts can also be mitigated by scanning for exposed addresses, using a two-step authentication process for accounts containing your sensitive data or even confirming with an institution that they have indeed asked for such information, contacting them by phone. It’s such simple steps that will allow you to beat the scammers and separate yourself (and your network, be it a home network or a business LAN) from the increasing number of phishing attacks, which reached 255,000 in 2016 according to the Anti-Phishing working group.
However, with the introduction of this new initiative, keeping out phishers can be as easy as a quick phone update. Until then, be sure to double-check each email and cross reference the identity of every person asking for information, it could save your bank account and keep away the wi-fi zombies.