New Orleans, La.—Tens of thousands of Americans could lose Internet service Monday, many of them unaware their computers are infected with malware.
Despite repeated warnings, the FBI estimated last week that more than 250,000 computers worldwide remain infected, down from about 360,000 in April. Of those infected, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday the number of U.S. computers impacted had fallen to roughly 45,000.
The bureau has set up a special web site for Internet users to check whether they are infected.
Computer users who are infected will lose their ability to go online, and may have to call their service providers for help deleting the malware and reconnecting to the worldwide web.
So How Did This All Happen?
It started with an online advertising scam to take control of more than half-a-million computers around the world.
Last year, the FBI moved to quash the scheme, but agents quickly realized if they turned off the servers being used to control computers, all of the malware victims would lose their Internet service. Hence, the bureau sent out the many months of warnings.
The FBI also set up a safety net of sorts, installing two clean Internet servers to grab control over the black-hat servers. That meant no sudden loss of Internet service and bought time to spread the word about the potential problem.
However, the temporary fix runs out at 11:01 p.m. New Orleans time Sunday night. Cnet offers a post on why you should care.
Most people are not affected
Although the number of infected computers seems high, it represents less than 1% of the close to 170,000,000 computers in the United States. Most people will not suffer any adverse effects even if they do nothing. However, many of the tens of thousands of infected users have no idea they have a problem. The Associated Press quoted the FBI as saying about 50 of the Fortune 500 companies have at least some infected computers.
The FBI web site designed to check your status won't solve the problem if you find you're infected.
So what if you are infected?
Many Internet providers have already come up with fixes for the problem or at least can provide guidance for victims on how to deal with the malware.