DENVER, Colo (AP) At 12:01 a.m. EDT, the FBI was to shut down the Internet servers set up as a temporary safety net to keep infected computers online for the past eight months. The court order that the agency obtained to keep the servers running was to expire, and it was not renewed.
The problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of more than 570,000 infected computers around the world. When the FBI went in to take down the hackers late last year, agents realized that if they turned off the malicious servers being used to control the computers, all the victims would lose their Internet service.
In a highly unusual move, the FBI set up the safety net. The bureau brought in a private company to install two clean Internet servers to take over for the malicious servers so that people would not suddenly lose their Internet.
The FBI arranged for a private company to run a website http://www.dcwg.org as a place where computer users could go to see if their computer was infected and find links to other computer security business sites where they could find fixes for the problem.
From the onset, most victims didn’t even know their computers were infected, although the malicious software probably has slowed their Web surfing and disabled their antivirus software, making their machines more vulnerable to other problems.
Many computer users don’t understand the complex machines they use every day to send email, shop, and cruise for information. The cyberworld of viruses, malware, bank fraud and Internet scams is often distant and confusing, and warning messages may go unseen or unheeded.
Rep. James R. Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat and co-founder of Congress’ cybersecurity caucus, said computer users have a responsibility to practice good sense and make sure their computers are not infected or being hijacked by criminals.
“These types of issues are only going to increase as our society relies more and more on the Internet, so it is a reminder that everyone can do their part,” he said.
FBI officials have been tracking the number of computers they believe still may be infected by the malware. As of Wednesday, there were about 45,600 in the U.S. nearly 20,000 less than a week ago. Worldwide, the total is roughly 250,000 infected. The numbers have declined steadily, and recent efforts by Internet service providers may limit the problems Monday.
Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent, said many Internet providers had plans to try to help their customers. Some may put technical solutions in place that will correct the server problem. It they do, the Internet will work, but the malware will remain on victims’ computers and could pose future problems.
Other Internet providers were simply braced for the calls to their help lines.