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'Botnet' sting nets U.S., New Zealand cyber-criminals

The computer attacks can bring spam and malware, and threaten digital infrastructure.

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The FBI this week announced progress on a computer crime initiative aimed at thwarting the use of "botnets" to disrupt Internet communications. The investigation, dubbed Operation Bot Roast II, has netted eight arrests around the US, and, with the help of police in New Zealand, also has included a search of the home of a teenager believed to be the ringleader of an international coding group, the FBI said in a statement.

A botnet is a group of computers that has been hijacked by a malicious hacker. To create one, a hacker may set up a website or send out mass e-mails with attachments that, when opened, give the hacker control over unsuspecting users' computers. The "botherder" then can use the hijacked computers (called "zombies") to send spam or phishing e-mails, or execute crippling distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

The New Zealand teen, who goes by the online handle "AKill," is believed to be a leader in an international group of hackers calling themselves the "A-team," according to Information Week.

New Zealand police said the "A-Team" was believed to be responsible for installing malware on 1.3 million computers via the Netherlands. [Computers from the Netherlands comprise the third largest distribution hub of malware. It] was chosen due to its "superior data transmission infrastructure," according to New Zealand police.

Earlier this year, a group of hackers used a botnet and a DDoS to take down the "essential electronic infrastructure" of Estonia, Wired reported. FBI Director Robert Mueller cited the Estonia attack as an example of what botnets can do.

Wave after wave of data requests from computers around the world shut down banks and emergency phone lines, gas stations and grocery stores, newspapers and television stations, even the prime minister's office.
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