Friday, October 9, 2009

Comcast tries pop-up alerts to warn of infections

PHILADELPHIA — Comcast Corp. wants to enlist its customers in a fight against a huge problem for Internet providers — the armies of infected personal computers, known as "botnets," that suck up bandwidth by sending spam and facilitating cybercrime.

The country's largest provider of high-speed Internet to homes started testing a service this week in Denver in which Comcast sends customers a pop-up message in their Web browsers if their computers seem to have been co-opted by a botnet. One botnet can have tens of thousands or even millions of PCs.

The message points to a Comcast site with tips for cleaning infected computers. It reads: "Comcast has detected that there may be a virus on your computer(s). For information on how to clean your computer(s), please visit the Comcast Anti-Virus Center."

Comcast said users can close the warning banners if they wish, but they cannot opt out of receiving them. A reminder will return every seven days while a computer appears to be infected.

The program, which Comcast hopes to roll out nationally, is one of the most aggressive moves yet by a major Internet provider to curb what's become a scourge on the Internet.

Botnets are a part of most serious cybercrime. They're used to steal credit card numbers, carry out so-called "denial-of-service" attacks that bring down Web sites and send spam by hijacking e-mail accounts and Internet connections.

A computer can fall into the sway of a botnet when it is infected with malicious software that puts the machine under the control of criminals, who use the anonymity provided by having so many zombie machines at their disposal to cover their tracks.

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