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Virus attack

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:11 UK time, Monday, 9 October 2006

Our website technology correspondent Mark Ward hit on an unorthodox way of illustrating his latest series, about online security.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteHe set up a PC devoid of any sensible anti-virus software and firewall protection and left it online to see what would happen. The results were – to the uninitiated – fairly spectacular, not to say alarming. When he put the “honeypot” machine online it was, on average, hit by a potential security assault every 15 minutes.

The attacks came from all over the world. Most were just nuisances, but at least once an hour the hapless PC was hit by an attack that could have left it unusable or turned it into a platform for attacking other PCs. The experiment wasn’t exactly a scientific study, but his approach to the issue has prompted lots of interest and focused people’s attention on a common problem.


  • 1.
  • At 05:06 PM on 09 Oct 2006,
  • Jennifer wrote:

Actually.. it's not unorthodox. It's a trick many computer magazines have pulled many times over the years.

And.. it's nothing but scaremongering. Most of these threats are completely meaningless.

  • 2.
  • At 06:17 PM on 09 Oct 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

There should be a continuous all-nation search for the people responsible with publication of their prison sentences. These criminals should be barred from using computers online: no third party should be permitted to act for them.

  • 3.
  • At 06:39 PM on 09 Oct 2006,
  • Ewan Mac Mahon wrote:

Now do it again with a Linux machine and see how long it last before it gets compromised. That would be public service broadcasting.

  • 4.
  • At 07:35 PM on 09 Oct 2006,
  • James wrote:

Listening to Five Live this afternoon the points were raised well and hopefully anyone listening will do something to secure their PC. Such focus is being made from it now across the media it's getting harder to avoid.

Fortunately, you can do a lot to protect yourself for free, such as browsing safely with Firefox and using AVG Free or any of the good anti-malware software.

I just hope people listening to Five Live and reading the linked article take something away from it instead of ignoring it or buying something they don't need from the High Street.

(Whilst it's a great idea to keep PC security fresh in peoples minds, Click Online (News 24 & BBC World) covered this sort of experiment in detail earlier in the year and I'm sure again before that, with all the similar conditions and yet no one else spoke about it... see here for the shows it has been a topic on. It would be great if Click could be shown at some point on BBC TWO, THREE or FOUR. For a great programme it feels slightly underused.

  • 5.
  • At 07:38 PM on 09 Oct 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

Well, the same has been true for years. I remember reading an article in a magazine 5 or so years ago that did exactly the same thing and found the same - it was attached within minutes of being online.

  • 6.
  • At 10:36 AM on 10 Oct 2006,
  • John wrote:

Why do people always criticise the BBC? Ed wrote "Well, the same has been true for years. I remember reading an article in a magazine 5 or so years ago that did exactly the same thing and found the same - it was attached (sic) within minutes of being online."

What is his point? 5 years ago hardly anyone protected their PCs as nobody used broadband so the concept of 'always on' wasn't there. In the past 5 years security should have improved sufficiently to ensure that most hackers gave up. This (informal) study proves this isn't the case.

  • 7.
  • At 12:17 PM on 10 Oct 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

I don't think anyone is really trying to criticise the BBC on this issue, it is just that as Jennifer said this is far from unorthodox. In the computing world it is about as unorthodox as someone suggesting that we use a van instead of a horse and cart to lift a heavy item.

I don't think that the hackers (well really script kiddies as this isn't hacking) put much effort into these attacks. Instead they reply on user stupidity/naiveity.

It is the on-line equivalent of a stranger coming up to you and giving you a floppy disk and saying "Run this, it's great".

  • 8.
  • At 01:02 PM on 10 Oct 2006,
  • Baz wrote:

3. At 06:39 PM on 09 Oct 2006, Ewan Mac Mahon wrote:

Now do it again with a Linux machine and see how long it last before it gets compromised. That would be public service broadcasting.


When 99% of the BBC's viewers or users of its website own a PC with a Linux OS, then it would be public service broadcasting to run this experiment on a Linux box.

However for better or worse the vast majority of home users, many of whom understand and use the internet but are ignorant of the risks involved, have a pre-installed Microsoft OS but do not know how to protect themselves online.

Articles like this might be the IT equivalent of the "Eggs will kill you" tabloid scare story, but if it drives home the message that users are not in a safe, isolated cocoon when they go online with no firewall or anti-virus software then it is worth it.

  • 9.
  • At 01:27 PM on 10 Oct 2006,
  • Louis wrote:

Ewan Mac Mahon wrote:
"Now do it again with a Linux machine and see how long it last before it gets compromised. That would be public service broadcasting."

Or better still : do yourself a BIG favour and get an Apple Macintosh with OS 10.4...
Spyware ? Virusses ? Dunno...
No software for a Mac ? Get real please...

I've been laughing my head off (again) with this article, but I feel really sorry for those folks who must stay with PC's & Micro$oft (& virusses & spyware & malware & ...)

  • 10.
  • At 01:29 PM on 10 Oct 2006,
  • Andrew Taylor wrote:

To Ewan McMahon: I agree wholeheartedly but after the BBC's recent tie-in with Microsoft, they are now unlikely to do much to promote Linux!

So the journalist set up a PC and turned off all the security measures which are, by default, turned on.

Great story.

  • 12.
  • At 11:01 PM on 10 Oct 2006,
  • Darren wrote:

Web security is a major issue and I think most people are blind to this.

I always knew the risks of being online, and with the introduction of broadband made it a whole lot bigger risk.

I'd like to thank the BBC for this article because I was starting to slack at web protection (eg regular Spyware checks etc), but after seeing this it's opened my eyes again as to how potentially dangerous the Internet can be.

  • 13.
  • At 12:16 PM on 11 Oct 2006,
  • steve wrote:

anything that raises peoples awareness of this subject is more than welcome, being a computer technician i inspect thousands of computers each year and the amount infected with viruses is staggering, most people either have no protection at all or use poor software cause they saw it advertised on a pc world advert (norton antivirus to name one) if only the media would inform the people that you can quickly and simply protect yourself for free with programs like avg free/zone alarm/ad aware se personal, then the amount of scammers and hackers would dramatically decrese.

  • 14.
  • At 01:55 PM on 11 Oct 2006,
  • rey wrote:

I found this very odd. I've always been security conscious, even more so when I switched to broadband. My up-to-date firewall has not reported any attacks on it, ever. Neither has my anti-virus software ever found anything. My Anti-spy-ware deletes a few tracking cookies once in a while.

I suspect, as usual, this has been over-hyped. Again.

  • 15.
  • At 07:34 PM on 11 Oct 2006,
  • Richie wrote:

Those who think it's overhyped- I lost everything to exactly the kind of worm the article described. My machine slowed to a standstill. Now I'm using another computer and heaven knows when I'll get round to delving into the old infected hard-drive. Don't be smug- beware!

  • 16.
  • At 09:13 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

This story annoys me mainly upon the ignorance to which it has been reported.

'Hackers attack your PC every 15 seconds' that isn't true.

Viruses, trojans and malware attack your PC every 15 seconds not hackers.

Does the BBC not understand the difference?

A hacker typically specialises in one particular skill and if often part of a team, he will scan a range of ip adresses looking for a specific vulnerability upon finding one it is logged.

This person is a scanner, those results are then pased on to a hacker who then takes those vulnerable ranges and attempts to exploit them. A simple to understand explopit would be vnc4 giving remote desktop access to the attacker.

Once in the machine the attacker will often use there own personally designed trojan to do whatever there purpose is ie: setting up a FTP server in order to transfer copywrighted materail from other hacked boxes. This is in fact how the entire 'warez scene' is powered.

A popular program used would be Metasploit which is a automated hacking shell with a autoupdate feature allowing you to uses hundreds of avilable exploits and payloads at any one time. Thats what a hacker/hacking team does. Of course real hackers devlop there own exploits and keep them secret.

Getting pinged by other users who have viruses is not a major cause for concern, it can be easily remedied by the installation of a network router which has a hardware firewall, of course if you forward a port on that firewall and run a service on it ie: vnc4 if that service has a vulnerability it can be exploited. But since most people have no need to forward a port a router will render them more or less 100% safe. This is FAR more important than anti virus or anything else, in fact if you use common sense you barely even need anti virus.

Software firewalls are not even worth installing and can be easily bypassed. Besdies all users running windows XP have a software firwall anyway. So stop reccomending them! They sare not secure and put people in a false sense of security.

So in future before the BBC tries to scaremonger the public it should get it facts right and actually reccomend what they actually need.

The biggest problem in the UK is the number of people using usb modems with no NAT firewall rather than anything else.

  • 17.
  • At 10:29 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

Wow, only one Mac zealot has posted about how everyone should use Macs instead of windows.

For many people Macs are over priced and over-rated. Yes, Macs do have software, but the range is tiny compared to the PC. Many people I know who have home computers tend to use it for games, and internet use.

For internet use a cheap PC can do as well as a Mac (which is usually like for like more expensive). For games there really is no choice as the vast majority of games are PC only, with a Mac release months later or not at all.

Maybe if more people had Macs then there would be more reason for them to become targets.

  • 18.
  • At 12:46 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Ewan Mac Mahon wrote:

Baz - When 99% of the BBC's users are already on Linux (or indeed MacOS) then it would be too late for the BBC to make a difference. The BBC has a duty to inform and educate; telling people how vulnerable Windows is covers the former, education involves teaching people about the alternatives.

  • 19.
  • At 06:44 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

To reiterate as people seem to be missing the point here:-

Weather you are running M$ Windows, MAC OSX, any Linux distro or any kind of nix OS the principles of TCP/IP security are the same. All of the above are equally hackable.

Everyone needs to get a router and everyone needs to back that up with common sense.

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