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Bots, Trojans and Worms: What do they mean?

Many people don't understand why we have to change passwords. Photo: DPA

Computer users and companies are constantly being told to change passwords, update software and log in information due to the latest "Trojan" or "Bot" stealing all your information - but what are they?

The latest news comes as the US revealed a band of hackers armed with an army of automated viruses, scraped hundreds of thousands of computers around the world, stealing more than 100 million dollars (£60m) from businesses and consumers.

So what do these terms mean?

'Bots' and 'Botnets'

"Bots" derive from the word "robots" and are an automated process that interact with other network services. Different to viruses, which aim to mainly disable your system to an extent, bots act to automatically scrape your information.

These "automatic robots" can log keystrokes, gather passwords, gather financial information, launch DoS attacks and relay spam on the infected host.

Multiple connected computers infected by these bots can connect back to a central server and act as a "remote control command center" for an entire network of compromised devices, or "botnet."

  • Tip: Install specific antivirus software to your computer.
Trojans can open up 'back doors' to your computer. Credit: REUTERS/Patrick Lin

What are Trojans?

Named after the wooden horse the Greeks used to infiltrate Troy, Trojans are pieces of harmful software that looks legitimate on your system - think of them as a crowbar to let others in.

When antivirus companies ask you to update your computers, a new list of Trojan names are added for the software to look for.

Trojans can achieve any number of attacks on the host, from irritating the user (popping up windows or changing desktops) to damaging the host (deleting files, stealing data, or activating and spreading other malware, such as viruses).

Trojans are also known to create back doors to give malicious users access to the system.

– Cisco Web Security

Trojans must spread through user interaction such as opening an e-mail attachment or downloading and running a file from the Internet - so trusting your sender is paramount.

  • Tip: Never store passwords on a computer. Make sure your browser settings clear password history - especially at work
The National Crime Agency is warning against a super virus, due to hit the UK in a fortnight. Credit: Reuters

What are Worms?

To spread, worms either exploit a vulnerability on the system or it asks people to perform a seemingly mundane task to divulge personal information.

This was widely reported when eBay urged its users to change all their passwords after the website's database - containing names and contact details of customers - was compromised after a worm received login data from employees.

Once a worm has located a small number of employee credentials, or has entered through file-transport on the system, it can infect or gain information within.

  • Tip: Do not open an attachment unless you are certain of its orgins
Ebay are asking all its users to change their passwords after the internal 'worm' breach. Credit: Reuters

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