Zombie PCs: Time for their zombie owners to take some responsibility

Editor's notebook: Mandatory antivirus for all web users will put virus writers out of business

It's time lazy web users took responsibility for themselves online, says silicon.com editor Steve Ranger.

Viruses cost the economy billions every year, either in lost productivity or in clean-up costs.

Malware is big business - while some virus writers are just plain malicious, many are out to make money from stealing data or by building botnets of zombie PCs, formed into a gigantic army to do the bidding of a shadowy overlord.

These zombie herders in turn make their money by spreading spam, furthering phishing frauds or launching distributed denial of service attacks against companies in order to extort protection money.

A recently discovered botnet used some common malware to infect computers worldwide - 3,300 or so in the UK - and then stole more than 60GB of personal data from them including their social networking login details, bank account information, credit card numbers and emails.

Mandatory antivirus will put virus writers out of business

Would mandatory antivirus put virus writers out of business?
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Viruses, botnets and phishing scams undermine the trust that is vital for a digital economy to thrive.

But because they are often complicated, cross-border crimes where the fraudster may be on the other side of the planet to the victim, they're a low priority for law enforcement. Given it's unlikely the botnet builders are going to give up their nefarious ways any time soon, the easiest thing is to make all PCs as virus-proof as possible.

Mandatory antivirus
Malware is called a computer 'virus' for a reason - malware spreads through unprotected PCs just as a sneeze spreads a cold through a packed train carriage of unlucky commuters.

But we haven't explored the consequences of this virus analogy as far as we should.

Just as nasty diseases lead to public inoculation programmes, have we now reached the point where we need mandatory antivirus and basic firewalls on all PCs connected to the internet in order to stop the constant virus infections?

Installing some antivirus - and there are plenty of good free options - is a trivial undertaking that would radically cut the virus problem immediately. Sure, there could be outbreaks of viruses that are completely new and the antivirus experts aren't ready for, but they account for a fraction of all malware.

Home users - or, indeed businesses - who don't have antivirus are either unaware of the problem, don't realise they can get it cheaply (or for free) or are just lazy. None of these are particularly good justifications for creating a juicy market for global criminal gangs...

By Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic. An award-winning journalist, Steve writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture, and regularly appears on TV and radio discussing tech issues. Previously he was th...