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Don't Know If You've Patched Your Server? Conficker Does

New worm spreads like wildfire through unpatched machines.
New worm spreads like wildfire through unpatched machines.A new worm has taken the Internet by storm, infecting, at one estimate, 10 million machines, including more than a million in a 24-hour period. And it's entirely unnecessary because it exploits a flaw that has already been patched.

Called Conficker, Downadup, and other names, it exploits a bug in the Windows Server service of Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2008. The thing is, Microsoft added a patch for it to its update service in October. But an estimated one-third of PCs have not been patched, leaving them open to be taken over remotely.

The only silver lining for server users is that the scammers behind Conficker seemed mostly interested in launching scare-ware, which tricks victims into buying bogus anti-virus software. In other words, the resulting zombies in the botnet created by Conficker do not launch spam runs or become hosts for scam sitesoutcomes that tends to victims servers. Scare-ware tends to victimize unsophisticated desktop users.

At least, that's the situation currently. The botmasters could change direction tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a botnet of this size is a major setback for the security arena. After the take-down of two rogue servers during the latter part of 2008, reportedly the largest botnet left was the Cutwail botnet with about 175,000 zombies. Suddenly the IT works is confronted with a new botnet that exceeds Cutwaill by two orders of magnitude.

Security, it appears, is the job that's never finished. The anti-virus vendors may get the upper hand temporarily, but they seem to be out-numbered by the scammers. For the IT managers, complaisance is not an option. Servers must be secured, and they must be patched, or the will almost certainly get infected. And an infection means an open-ended amount of pain, embarrassment, and expense.

Visit the bMighty Server How-To Center for practical, hands-on information about how to choose, install, and maintain your company's servers.

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