Millions Of US Computers Completely Pwned By Botnets.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Botnet attacks operate beyond the protection of conventional antivirus software, like these consumer antivirus products at an Office Max store in Miami, Florida on August 22, 2003.

Microsoft says it has removed botnet software from millions of computers this year. Millions more are still infected. Do you know what your computer is doing when you're not around?

Microsoft just released its ninth Security Intelligence Report. The focus is on botnets. Microsoft cleaned 6.5 million computers from botnet infections in the three months April – June 2010. That's double the number a year ago. And remember, that's just those that have been cleaned. There are likely many millions more that haven't been.

If you've been infected you don't control what your computer does, the botnet does. You probably won't even notice as your computer becomes a typhoid Mary, spewing viruses, spam and phishing attempts, or used to launch denial of service attacks. Without you even knowing it you are the problem. The best part, of course, is that the person in charge is known as the botnet herder, which is just kinda funny to say and makes me grin each time.

But, what isn't funny is that the United States has more zombie computers than any other country in the world, and this is completely avoidable. There are plenty of free programs out there, heck Microsoft itself offers some, that can deal with the problem, security updates that can plug vulnerabilities. It's even possible to make all that happen automatically with no work on your part. But people are just too darn lazy to do it. So next time you curse the spam in your inbox, just remember, it might have come from your own computer.

And just to forestall the comments, yes, these are all machines that are running Windows, and yes you are morally superior for using a Mac or Linux box. That still doesn't change the scope of the problem. Remember the Mariposa botnet? They had nearly 13 million computers under their control. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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