Broadband boom makes UK worst for hacked PCs

Symantec claims that hackers have been taking over more PCs in the UK than in any other country
Written by Dan Ilett, Contributor

The explosion in broadband take-up in the UK has been blamed for a sudden rise in the number of computers that have been taken over by hackers, according to Symantec's latest Internet Security Threat Report.

Between July and December 2004, Symantec tracked the number of computers that have been compromised by malicious software. More than a quarter (25.2 percent) of all compromised computers it discovered were based in the UK, with the US following closely behind with 24.6 percent, and China in third with 7.8 percent. Symantec says this is because many high-speed Internet users don't have sufficiently robust security.

Symantec wasn't able to say how many bots it discovered in total during the period, or how many were based in the UK. It did say, though, that in July 2004 it was finding an average of 30,000 new compromised PCs each day, which fell to 5,000 per day by December.

"The fact that Britain has the highest percentage of bot infections is significant because it is directly linked to the rapid roll-out of broadband in this country,” explained Nigel Beighton, Symantec’s director of enterprise strategy. "Unfortunately, new broadband users may not be fully aware of the additional safety precautions that need to be taken when using an always-on high-speed Internet connection. Clearly, awareness around security issues is improving and it’s making a notable difference, but education still remains the number one challenge."

Broadband users often leave their home PCs connected to the Internet for many hours, putting them at greater risk of attack than dial-up users who are more likely to only go online intermittently. "We would stress the importance of using firewalls, virus checkers and very good security practice," said Malcolm Hutty, regulation officer for the London Internet Exchange, which handles over 90 percent of UK Internet traffic.

Symantec defines a bot as a malware-infected computer that can be controlled remotely by a hacker. Hackers often use these machines to form botnets — thousands of compromised computers networked, typically for malicious use. The combined processing power of a botnet can be used to send huge quantities of spam or carry out denial-of-service attacks. Although the UK has more bots, the United States was found to be the top source of such malicious attacks, followed by China and Germany.

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