What to do if the Internet stops working today and you can no longer read this article

What to do if the Internet stops working today and you can no longer read this article

Summary: It's just another malware Monday.

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It's just another malware Monday. With apologies to Prince, Apollonia, The Bangles, and anyone who ever had 80s hair, today is supposed to be Internet Armageddon, the ultimate bad hair day for some Internet users.

The story has been all over the Internet and all over ZDNet. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the FBI seized some DNS servers used by a malware infection called DNS Changer. DNS Changer set the IP address of infected computers to a series of DNS servers operated by criminals, and from there, any domain name request could be routed by criminals to fraudulent sites.

See also: ZDNet DNS Changer topics summary

The FBI, rather than just suddenly taking the DNS servers down, instead cleaned them up and has been operating them for the better part of a year. If your computer was infected, you'd still go to a spoofed server, but that server would then send your requests to where they belonged.

As of today, that's no longer the case. As of today, those servers are coming down.

On one hand, it might not seem like that much effort (or money) to keep a few DNS servers operating so as not to upset hundreds of thousands of users. True, the servers are costing somewhere on the order of $87,000 to operate, but that's chump change compared to many federal programs.

The reality is that the people who were infected by DNS Changer are still at risk. They're probably still practicing risky behavior and so, whatever practices got them infected in the first place may well get them infected again.

Sometimes, the only way to help people understand the risk of these things is for them to experience it themselves. In the education world, it's called guided discovery. For some people, the only way they're going to learn is to experience the consequences of their actions.

When the FBI's DNS servers go down today, those who are infected will feel the consequences of their actions. And what, exactly, were those actions?

Most people get infected in a few different ways: visiting an unsafe web site, opening an unsafe email attachment, running downloaded software they shouldn't be running, and so on.

The irony, of course, to the title of this article is that if you can no longer read this article, you can't read any of the suggestions I'm about to make. Irony is like that. But if you do get back online, follow these suggestions. If you're a techie supporting a family member or friend who insists on going to those sites or opening those emails, give them a copy of this article.

So what are some safe practices?

I'm not going to list them all, but here's a few to get you started:

  1. Don't open email attachments. Ever. Period. They can contain a nasty payload.
  2. Make sure you're running an antivirus program and it's up-to-date.
  3. Make sure you update your operating system regularly.
  4. Make sure to update all the supporting programs like Flash, Acrobat, Quicktime, Java, and so forth.
  5. Make sure you're running a modern browser. If you're still running XP and IE6, just slap yourself.
  6. Don't consider yourself safe just because you're running a Mac or a Linux box.
  7. Make sure you're behind a firewall and a router, both software and physical.
  8. Don't download and install programs from random web sites.
  9. Don't go visiting naughty web sites.
  10. Don't go to free download sites or sites offering pirated software, movies or music

Well, that's ten. That should keep you busy until the blogosphere declares the next Internet Armageddon. Stay safe out there.

Oh, and to the folks in the FBI who are getting some heat today for turning off the servers: thanks for keeping them up all this time. Shutting them down with plenty of notice was the right thing to do.

Finally, for those of you who are offline and can't read this article, just print it out. You can read it then.

Topics: Government US, Security

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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33 comments
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  • DNS

    "Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the FBI seized some DNS servers used by a malware infection called DNS Changer."

    To be quite perfectly honest, most of my friends (being computer illiterate, as lets face it most of the population is) wouldn't be able to spell DNS - let alone know what a DNS server is. That highlighted statement of yours made me lol.

    The rest of the article was a good read though.
    Marcus Dashoff
  • downloading free software!

    "Don't go to free download sites"

    Like download.zdnet.com?
    You and sometimes Why
  • OS and Browser

    A good read, except for the 5th, where XP and IE6 was mentioned. Mentioning IE6 only will make 5th statement correct. There are XP users who are not using IE6. Most malwares have mutated and will infect Win7. There are some stats/graphs where a specific malware is equally distributed between Win7 and XP, in fact some malware has even infected more Win7 than XP, probably due to the changing market share between them.


    P.S.
    Nice ZDNet format in their home page, and the voting system was revised. Congrats to ZDNet team for the more intuitive arrangement.
    Martmarty
    • IE6 & XP

      and how will you run IE6 without Win XP?
      j03w
      • Like this, perhaps:-

        http://www.tatanka.com.br/ies4linux/page/Main_Page

        :-)

        Best wishes, G.
        mrgoose
      • No problem.

        IE6 still works on Win2K, like on this computer. I was going to reply sooner, but the Internet stopped working today.
        kidtree
    • "Congrats to ZDNet team for the more intuitive arrangement."

      Are you being sarcastic? It seems that the voting system is broken as none of the older articles show the votes on the comments any longer. The top rated comments are no longer visible and their is no longer any option to down vote a comment. Also, many users including myself have been getting " User name not displayed" on our postings the last few weeks. I absolutely despise the way ZDNet is broken right now. Whats the point in commenting under my own profile if I'm posting anonymously and whats the point of having a voting system if the votes aren't displayed?
      techadmin.cc@...
      • Funny post

        Thanks for making me smile. I can also choose a name as "user name not displayed too".
        Martmarty
  • Virtual image

    I would say- anything that could be considered risky should be done in a virtual image. Keep a backup of the image- after use wipe off the used and replace from the original.
    kirovs@...
  • Y2K

    I've heard almost as much hype about this story as I did about the worldwide doom that was supposed to befall us on 1/1/2000. How about putting up a poll question: "Do you expect to hear from a friend or family member that their computer stopped working today?" I'd click "No."
    mark.hill.smt
    • lol

      A friend asked me what happens after Monday? I told her that this is like Y2K, no one really knows what will happen but they are pretty sure nothing really bad. Well those that are informed will. There will always be those nut-jobs that claim that "This is the end of the world! Save yourself!" lol
      xangpow
  • Uh...

    If your Internet stopped working today you wouldn't be able to read this article.
    bb_apptix
    • Yes.

      The author mentioned the inherent irony in that at least twice. If you're not paying attention, raise your hand.
      kidtree
  • AND????

    Will the Grandpa and Grandma "class" users ever be informed??? I doubt it!!! ZD Net likes surveys - how about one that provides info on how many of us Seniors have to go to the pros when system gets infected by "us" doing something stupid with our PC/Mac/etc.!!!! (I'm 78 and have benefit of personal knowledge plus two family pros that keep me straight...) It occurs to me that most often it is the very young and the very old that either don't know or don't listen that make up the majority of the problem internet users!!! Course this is just an ole mans' ramblings!!!
    puppadave
  • Just so yall know

    "Make sure you're running an antivirus program and it's up-to-date."
    The second part is very important. I actually went to a person’s house that was having computer problems and told me "I HAVE anti-virus, I just pay for the year yesterday.” I asked “have you updated it?” They actually told me “You have to update it?” lol Talk about your “Doh!” moments.

    “Make sure you update your operating system regularly.”
    One thing I often hear with this one is “But it takes too long.” And that is why I am we have computer technicians. lol

    “Make sure to update all the supporting programs like Flash, Acrobat, Quicktime, Java, and so forth.”
    I try to tell people this but what I often hear is “Well a friend told me/ I read on the internet/ A guy at work said … if you update that you will be opening yourself to viruses.” What I tell them is “if you do it on a regular basis you shouldn’t be too bad off. If you DO get something … well that is what anti-virus is for.”

    “Don't consider yourself safe just because you're running a Mac or a Linux box.”
    I over hear this all the time in public areas “I don’t NEED anti-virus I got an Apple and they NEVER have gotten ANYTHING bad. “ lol

    “Don't go to free download sites or sites offering pirated software, movies or music”
    Hey you get what you pay for and malware is FREE!! Come on in and take as much as you want, its perfectly safe. I promise. *Flash big toothy smile*
    xangpow
  • I agree

    @ puppadave
    I agree. When my sons were teenagers their computers required constant maintenance. Actually it was usually easiest to wipe their hard drive and reinstall about every six months. Also, my mother who is 73 has a few problems. Usually from downloading a toolbar that gets her coupons and malware all in one shot. But...that doesn't exclude people of any age. Some people just think they know better than anyone else and do what they want.

    @ xangpow
    You mentioned people who have an Apple and think viruses are no worry. I know several college instructors who have Macs. It never ceases to amaze me how arrogant these people can be. This one comment pretty much sums up what they believe about Apples: "Macs don't get viruses. If it ever happens that they do Apple people are smart. They will fix it." This comment was made by a highly educated individual who works in the movie industry as well as teaching college. You just can't reason with Mac owner about viruses.
    cuulblu
    • Me also

      "When my sons were teenagers their computers required constant maintenance"
      Had two Grandsons grow up in my house - both got into trouble constantly!!! Did the same wipe and re-install thing... Today, both are "IT Pros" and Managers at two of the largest corps in the USA!!! AND, both complain about their kids!!! (and some of their employees!!)
      puppadave
    • so so true

      You can't talk to Apple people like they are regular people because they will always ratinalize it into something in there favor. For them all you can do is throw your hands in the air and hope they come to thier sences.
      xangpow
      • Do not project...

        your jealousy and call it our arrogance. An observation... I have used Apple computers for over twenty years and have never run antivirus software. Observation... I have NEVER gotten a virus as a result of the first observation. Fact... I have never had to wipe my hard drive or even do a clean install for that matter. This may not last forever, but as it stands historically, I see no need to change. I have been hearing for years that Mac users are living on borrowed time, but yet the viruses that were promised never came. I came to my senses when I chose a Mac. I have had none of the problems that Windoze users complain about. If and when this changes, I will change my behavior accordingly.
        I do recommend that you get a Spell Check program....
        evanhorn2
        • Same here

          Us Windows users don't need to run Anti-Virus either. It's a scam. Check for malware and be done with it.
          CheapBastard