In the early days of networking computers, viruses were little more than proof of concept bits of code. Can I write a program or exploit a function where I can remotely open a CD drive on another computer or cause some other strange behavior?
These prank style antics grew bigger in scope and power and quickly began to spread around the Internet. Then the environment took a more sinister turn, by bulking up the things these viruses could do. Viruses became punishing programs that would eat up CPU speed, bloat up free hard drive space, spin drives faster than they were designed for and even delete user or operating system data.
They were deployed by people to punish others and destroy property and data. Without tangible rewards creating viruses start to get a bit bland. Viruses then started evolving to an end game or reward. Viruses that previously may have taken a computer offline either by design or by unmitigated spread of the infection fell out of favor. It was becoming more and more important to not have the target go offline or notice the infection. If the target went offline, the attacker wasn’t able to reap the benefits of the infection.
And what were those benefits? In that generation, most of the time it was stealing address book entries to sell to spammers. Personal information was rarely targeted, but corporate data was ripe for the picking.
This is the era of BotNet. Many viruses infect, spread and lay totally dormant. These infected computers are now slaves to the whims of the attacker. If an attacker wants to take down a large site with a DDOS attack, they can wake up 1,000’s of these sleeping infections to begin slamming a site with traffic. Each computer sending out just enough traffic not to be noticed but when combined as a whole their effects can be devastating. These “Bots” can also be put to task to sneak out little bits of Spam here and there. Not enough to get flagged by the normal detection practices of a modern ISP, but combined with the sheer numbers of those infected can wreak a lot of junk mail havoc.
The virus/malware industry has gone thru a major transformation over the years. Viruses have evolved from simple pranks to a hacker’s tool with which to make money, create mass damage or capture information. Viruses don’t say “Happy 1999!” on your screen anymore and stop there. These new viruses like to hide, wait and use the power of their combined infection numbers to make the criminals involved a lot of money.