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A zombie computer, abbreviated zombie, is a computer attached to the Internet that has been compromised by a security cracker, a computer virus, or a trojan horse. Generally, a compromised machine is only one of many in a "botnet", and will be used to perform malicious tasks of one sort or another under remote direction. Most owners of zombie computers are unaware that their system is being used in this way. Because the vector tends to be unconscious, these computers are metaphorically compared to a zombie.
Zombies have been used extensively to send e-mail spam; as of 2005, an estimated 50–80% of all spam worldwide was sent by zombie computers. This allows spammers to avoid detection and presumably reduces their bandwidth costs, since the owners of zombies pay for their own bandwidth.
For similar reasons zombies are also used to commit click fraud against sites displaying pay per click advertising. Others can host phishing or money mule recruiting websites.
Zombies have also conducted distributed denial of service attacks, such as the attack upon the SPEWS service in 2003, and the one against Blue Frog service in 2006. In 2000, several prominent Web sites (Yahoo, eBay, etc) were clogged to a standstill by a distributed denial of service attack mounted by a Canadian teenager. An attack on grc.com is discussed at length, and the perpetrator, a 13-year old probably from Kenosha, Wisconsin, identified on the Gibson Research Web site. Steve Gibson disassembled the 'bot' which seems to have mounted the attack, and traced it to its distributor. In his clearly written account about his research, he describes the operation of a 'bot' controlling IRC channel.
- Study by IronPort finds 80% of e-mail spam sent by Zombie PCs. June 28, 2006
- Botnet operation controlled 1.5 million PCs
- Is Your PC a Zombie? on About.com
- Intrusive analysis of a web-based proxy zombie network
- A detailed account of what a zombie machine looks like and what it takes to "fix"it
- Data and graphics related to zombie originated spam.
- Zombie networks, comment spam, and referer spam - describes comment spam and referer spam caused by zombie computers
- ^ Tom Spring, Spam Slayer: Slaying Spam-Spewing Zombie PCs, PC World, 2005-06-20
- ^ Steve Gibson, The Attacks on GRC.COM, Gibson Research Corporation, first: 2001-05-04, last: 2005-09-17