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How a SPAM fight in the Netherlands could help you know if you’re infected

A story circulated the web (and some newspapers) last week about a battle between two organisations in the Netherlands: CyberBunker and Spamhaus. During this period, if you noticed your internet connection drop in speed, you might be a) infected with malware and b) have been used as a weapon in the fight.

The Battle in Cyber Space – What happened?

The fight began as a professional disagreement between the two companies. CyberBunker is a company that allows websites to be put on the internet for almost any type of content – everything except terrorism and indecent pictures of children can be stored and displayed there. That means CyberBunker could be the ideal location for websites that SPAM your inbox with advertisements. Spamhaus, on the other hand, is a company that tries to create a list of all known SPAM distributors.

It was almost inevitable that the two would clash one day.

The recent troubles began when Spamhaus listed CyberBunker as a distributor of SPAM. Because thousands of internet service providers (ISPs – the companies that provide the internet to your house) subscribe to Spamhaus’ lists, websites hosted by CyberBunker began disappearing from the internet as ISPs started blocking customers from seeing CyberBunker’s – potentially SPAM-filled – sites.

The Attack

In retaliation, CyberBunker and some Eastern European associates began what became one of the internet’s biggest ever cyber-attacks. The weapons used in the attack included other people’s computers – people who had no idea their computer was being used in a battle.

Hackers involved in the conflict – people who were anti-Spamhaus – used this as an opportunity to get revenge. They used computers infected with malware to visit Spamhaus’ websites thousands of times a second. With hundreds of thousands of requests to load the website all coming at the same time, Spamhaus’ website crashed offline.

The process of using lots of computers to attack a single website by opening it too many times is known as a DDoS attack – distributed denial of service. A key component of these attacks is “zombie” computers – home computers owned by people like us, which are infected with a malware that lets them be manipulated.

People not infected with malware were unaffected, but if you noticed your internet connection slow down dramatically last week, it could have been because it was being used in this DDoS attack.

Luckily, there’s no criminal penalty for being involved in these attacks without your knowledge, so although your internet connection isn’t safe, your liberty is. However, if you did notice a speed drop, it might be a good time to search your computer for malware and other viruses that could be lurking on your system.

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