Oprah, KFC and the Great PC Cleanup?
Last week, Kentucky Fried Chicken stores around the nation struggled to accommodate a surge of roughly 4 million new customers, after Oprah Winfrey told viewers of her show that they could get a free meal at KFC by printing out an Internet coupon. By most accounts, the marketing gimmick was a disaster, but it got me thinking about Oprah's sheer ability to mobilize the masses. I wondered: How much badness on the Internet would disappear overnight if Oprah suggested that her devotees download, install and run a set of free PC security scanning tools?
Probably quite a bit, or at least enough to register a notable drop in global spam volumes, malicious software attacks and other activity that depends largely on remotely compromised PCs or "bots" to do most of the grunt work.
Estimates of just how many systems are infected by bot programs vary widely, but even by the most conservative estimates, a similar response by 4 million Oprah viewers could make a huge difference.
Some pundits -- like Google's chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf -- have estimated the number of comprised PCs at 100 million to 150 million worldwide, or 25 percent of all PCs connected to the Internet. Most experts I know, however, think that number is too high. In a recent report on the Conficker worm, researchers at IBM estimated that roughly one out of every 25 PCs, or 4 percent of all PCs online, was infected with Conficker.
Now, bear in mind that Conficker is just one family of bot programs out of dozens currently being used today by malicious hackers to remotely control infected systems. But for the moment, let's use IBM's Conficker numbers, and assume that 4 million Oprah viewers were to install and run three very easy-to-use programs -- say Superantispyware, Malwarebytes, and Trend Micro's Housecall online virus scanner.
I mention the first two tools because they almost always bring immediate results when someone complains to me about PC slowness, browser hijackers, and other computer maladies. I recommend an online virus scanner like Trend because it is free and does not interfere with any anti-virus software that may already be installed on a participant's machine.
Getting back to the numbers: If 4 million Oprah viewers -- a fraction of her viewership -- were to run these tools -- and just one in 25 respondents found and removed a bot program -- that could potentially clean up 160,000 systems. That's almost equal to the size of the largest botnet in circulation today, the Cutwail botnet, which currently controls an estimated 175,000 computers, according to research by Joe Stewart, director of malware research at Atlanta-based SecureWorks.
Cutwail is closely tied to a family of malware called "Pushdo," which Internet security firm Marshal8e6 says is currently the largest spam botnet on the planet - responsible for more than 27 percent of all spam sent globally each day.
Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at McAfee, said he liked the idea, but that it would only make a lasting difference if Oprah dedicated an entire show to helping more people understand basic street smarts about staying safe online.
"It's not enough to do a scan and remove the malware, because unless you educate people not to do the same thing again, it will happen over and over," Alperovitch said.
May 11, 2009; 2:35 PM ET
Categories: From the Bunker | Tags: kfc, malware-kickin good, oprah challenge
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