Hackers could take advantage of the more than 15 million computers that have been infected by the Conficker virus on April 1, experts have warned.
Concerns have been raised that hackers could have unrestricted access to every infected machine in the world.
The worm virus has already attacked the Houses of Parliament IT system and many homes and businesses remain at risk. Known variously as Conficker, Downadup, and Kido, it buries itself deep inside a PC’s Windows operating system, from where it can be used by hackers to steal users’ passwords and personal information – including bank details.
The virus first emerged in November which led to Microsoft releasing several patches and updates to defend against infection. The latest version of the virus has been programmed to instruct infected computers to carry out a particular act on April 1, although internet experts have been unable to determine what. Mikko Hypponen, a virus expert from F-Secure, said: “It is scary thinking about how much control a hacker could have over all these computers. They would have access to millions of machines.”
He added: “We don’t know what they are planning to do, if anything. “I think the machines that are already infected might do something new on April 1,” he told the Sun. More than nine million computers were infected at the bug’s peak last month. Once inside your PC, it sets up files and starts downloading information from a controlling “boss” server.
The infected PCs then form a network and can “talk” to each other, updating and evolving. The first of three Conficker strains was discovered in November last year. A second, more aggressive strain followed in December and a third this month. This last strain is reported to contain the April 1 trigger. To avoid infection, Windows users must download a special free update “patch” from the Microsoft website in addition to antivirus software.
Microsoft, who developed the Windows computer operating system, has offered a $250,000 (£172,000) reward for information that leads to the capture and conviction of the authors of Conficker.
Microsoft Knowledge Base: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/962007
Protect yourself from the Conficker computer worm
Microsoft Announcement: http://www.microsoft.com/protect/computer/viruses/worms/conficker.mspx