We are all too familiar with the kind of damage that hackers can do to people’s computers or companies’ databases once they’ve had the chance to upload viruses or malware. Identities can be stolen, bank accounts can be cleaned out and lives can be ruined. Businesses, too, can suffer severe damage if a hacker penetrates a company database and simply deletes all of the company’s client information or financial records. But the idea that a hacker could actually cause someone to lose Internet access may still seem farfetched. It isn’t.
In November 2011, the FBI began warning people about a virus called DNS Changer that allowed Estonian-based hackers to gain control of people’s computers. A domain name system (DNS) is “an Internet service that converts user-friendly domain names into the numerical Internet protocol (IP) addresses that computers use to talk to each other,” explained the FBI in its consumer guide. The way DNS Changer works is it puts a fake DNS server that the hackers control in place of the one on their victim’s computer. This allows the hackers to redirect an unsuspecting victim to websites with bogus software or money-making advertisements.
If you think security software could have helped, you’re wrong. Besides giving the hackers control of their victims’ Web travels, the malware also blocked their victims’ ability to update their operating systems or anti-malware protection.
But what does all this have to do with losing Internet access? Well, on March 8, 2012 the deadline for those who know they’re infected to remove the DNS Changer malware from their computers will expire. Anyone who hasn’t removed the malware by then will lose Internet access when the FBI shuts down the bogus servers for good.
Anyone who is uncertain about whether or not his computer is infected can download the FBI’s consumer guide, have a computer professional run a diagnostic – which may or may not reveal anything – or use the Avira DNS Repair Tool. The tool is free and requires no installation, but it won’t remove the malware from your computer. Using the repair tool will simply “reset the entries to Windows standard.”
If your computer is infected and you don’t mind starting over, then reinstalling your operating system is probably the quickest and easiest way to rid yourself of the malicious software. Just make sure that you’ve backed up all of your important files on a jump drive or external hard drive first. The other alternative is, of course, to enlist the aid of a computer professional. This service will not come for free. So, if you have a tight budget, reinstalling your operating system might be the way to go.
For some people, being able to access the Internet is an absolute necessity. If you’re one of them, you might want to take advantage of one of the options available to you to find out if you, too, are in danger of losing your Internet access come March 8.