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Conficker - Beware the Worms of April!

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith

If you are reading this than you obviously survived the "Ides of March," but now you have to "beware the worms of April!" No, not the worms that crawl around in the Spring mud - but the worms that crawl around in the muck of the Internet and computers that don't have good anti-virus protection. The Conficker computer worm is suspected to have infiltrated over 3 million computers around the world. The worm is set to take action on Wednesday - April Fools' Day. That's the day when the worm will wake up and try to contact its creators over the internet.

If the worm actually connects to its creators, the "bad guys" in this story, then the creators will be able to send a message back and take control of these PCs - that's when the PCs become "botnets" which is a computer under somebody else's control. The creators will potentially be able to trigger the program to send spam, spread more infections, clog networks with traffic, or try and crash websites.

Now you may be wondering, if everybody knows about this - why can't we stop the worm from phoning home? Well so far security experts have been able to do just that. Each day Conficker-infected machines have been trying to connect to up to 250 internet websites but security companies have worked with the folks who own the domains to ensure that those 250 domains are not controlled by the worm's creators.

The challenge is that on April 1, many Conficker-infected machines will generate a new list of 50,000 domains and will randomly select 500 of those domains to contact. Many businesses and organisations have worked together to keep the first 250 domains safe - but monitoring the next set of 50,000 domains will be a far greater challenge. April 1 might bring a challenge or it could be another false alarm along the lines of the Y2K threat of the world's computers failing on January 1, 2000. Maybe the creators will take control of some of the PCs - or maybe many of the world's security experts will just see their time go to waste - only time will tell.

While the security experts are lined up and waiting, the average PC user can do a few things. Every PC should have three basic things - anti-virus software that is up-to-date; a firewall if you are on the Internet (and since you are reading this, we'll make that a yes) and it should be up-to-date with security patches from Microsoft.  Warning signs of this type of worm include automatic updates having been turned off without your permission; the Internet seems to be slow with the network taking a long time to open websites and the most definitive is you cannot access anti-virus or anti-spam websites.

Now, if you feel you are safe you can go the extra distance and actually test out your alleged protection. You can visit or as both of these sites will allow you to download an "infected" file. The file you download will not be a real worm but will include code that that should have all your protection software ringing alarm bells!

If you stocked a bomb shelter in the 1950s or stocked up on canned goods and water in 1999 then you will most certainly want to run these tests for 2009! Even though I had known about this testing software, I had never bothered to use them until last month. I ran them on the PCs for a number of small businesses that I help and I found that one of these PCs was not as protected as I thought it was. But, at least I discovered this before the worms of April!

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