Taiwan has experienced a recent rash of attacks from the "BotNet" computer virus -- a powerful, malicious program capable of giving hackers remote control of computers and allowing them to steal information or launch other attacks.
More than 88,000 computers have been infected in Taiwan so far, of which at least 12 have been in government organizations and 5,400 in schools, prompting a nationwide warning by police late last week.
A joint investigation by the Criminal Investigation Bureau and Microsoft last week found that at least 200 computers in Taiwan had become permanent hosts for the BotNet virus, and were launching indiscriminate attacks on other computers.
The bureau notified the National Information and Communication Security Taskforce, which alerted the government agencies with infected computers, who removed the virus.
Taiwan's number of infected computers places it sixth in the world overall, and second only to South Korea in Asia.
According to figures released by Microsoft, the number of computers that have been infected by the virus rose from 57,783 in February to 88,136 as of Sept. 17. The US tops the list of infected computers.
Li Hsiang-chen (
Many hackers used the chat software IRC to remotely access infected computers, and use them to steal personal information, send fake e-mails from banks and companies, send junk mail or launch denial of service attacks, he said.
BotNet can also self-replicate and self-disseminate, and it works so stealthily that it's not easy to find on infected computers, he added. He noted that recently hackers have developed a new form of the virus which is able to mutate, making it even more difficult to detect.
The bureau said that BotNet seems to mostly attack computer using Microsoft systems, but mutated strains of the virus have made other systems vulnerable as well. Microsoft has sent out warnings numerous times since the virus first appeared in 2003, but the relatively few instances of infection in Taiwan didn't warrant particular concern.
However, the explosion of infections over the past two years, combined with Taiwan's climb to the top of the worldwide list, has given the police cause for particular concern.
Computer experts at the bureau said that BotNet usually connects to the Internet through an Internet relay chat port every five to 10 seconds. Computers with port numbers 6660-6669 or 7000 may be infected.
Police said that some foreign hackers have even begun renting out computers that they have seized to other people for criminal purposes. Users should be concerned if they realize that their computer has become noticeably slower.
Microsoft Taiwan said that the best way to keep computers from becoming infected is to sweep the system regularly and remove spy software and "trojan" viruses. Users should also be sure to activate Windows Update to download software updates.
Microsoft provides Windows customers with two programs to find spyware.
The surest way to catch spyware and other malicious programs is to go to Microsoft's web site to download and install Windows Defender, which automatically updates anti-spyware definitions through Windows Update.