Hundreds Of Thousands May Lose Internet In July, FBI Warns

The FBI is warning that hundreds of thousands of people could lose their internet connections come July, unless they take steps to diagnose and disinfect their computers.

For computer users, a few mouse clicks could mean the difference between staying online and losing Internet connections this summer. Photo: Michael Surran/Flickr

The FBI has warned that hundreds of thousands of Internet users all over the world may lose access to the Internet by July in the aftermath of a hacker’s scam that infected their computers with malicious software, reports Digital Journal.

According to the CNET, the problem is related to malware called DNSChanger that was first discovered way back in 2007, which has infected millions of computers worldwide.

Unknown to most users, their problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of infected computers around the world.

The FBI is encouraging users to visit a website run by its security partner, www.dcwg.org , that will inform them whether they’re infected and explain how to fix the problem. After July 9, infected users won’t be able to connect to the Internet.

Most victims of the hacker scam do not even know that their computers are infected, though the malicious software might have slowed down their web surfing, disabled their antivirus software and exposed their machines.

“We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands because … if we just pulled the plug on their criminal infrastructure and threw everybody in jail, the victims of this were going to be without Internet service,” said Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent. “The average user would open up Internet Explorer and get ‘page not found’ and think the Internet is broken.”

How does it work? In simple terms, when you type a web address into your browser, your computer contacts DNS (Domain Name System) servers to find out the numerical Internet Protocol (IP) address of the site you’re trying to reach, and then it takes you there.

DNSChanger fiddled with an infected machine’s settings and directed it to rogue servers set up by a crime ring — servers that handed out addresses to whatever sites the ring chose.

According to The Huff Post, last November, the FBI and other authorities were preparing to take down a hacker ring that had been running an Internet ad scam on a massive network of infected computers.

But before members of the hacker ring were arrested, the FBI invited Paul Vixie, chairman and founder of Internet Systems Consortium, to install two Internet servers to replace impounded rogue servers that infected computers were hooked to.

FBI planned to keep their servers online until March to allow everyone time to clean their computers. But because more time was needed, a federal judge in New York extended the deadline until July. Grasso explained: “The full court press is on to get people to address this problem.”

Hackers allegedly infected a network of probably more than 570,000 computers worldwide. They took advantage of vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system to install malicious software on the victim computers.

This turned off antivirus updates and changed the way the computers reconcile website addresses behind the scenes on the Internet’s domain name system.

The hackers gained profits from advertisements that appeared on websites that victims were tricked into visiting. The scam netted the hackers at least $14 million, according to the FBI. It also made thousands of computers reliant on the rogue servers for their Internet browsing.

FBI officials announced that they organized an unusual system to avoid any appearance of government intrusion into the Internet or private computers. And while this is the first time the FBI used it, it won’t be the last.

“This is the future of what we will be doing,” said Eric Strom, a unit chief in the FBI’s Cyber Division. “Until there is a change in legal system, both inside and outside the United States, to get up to speed with the cyber problem, we will have to go down these paths, trail-blazing if you will, on these types of investigations.”

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