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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Hackers make house calls
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

If you spend a couple of hours per day on the net, the chances are that you have received the attention of a malicious hacker.

Almost all of the people recruited for a survey looking at the level of hacking on the net reported they had been visited by the software scanners that many hackers use to find vulnerable machines.

Participants were given a firewall to protect their machines and to record every visit by the software robots.

The firewalls also found that some of the machines taking part in the survey were already harbouring "trojans" that could have been used to launch remote web attacks or steal confidential information.

Sniffing with software

A survey by anti-virus company Symantec has revealed the level of casual hacking that many web users are subject to.

Symantec recruited 167 volunteers from around the UK and gave them personal firewalls set up to record any attempt made to compromise the security of their PC over a month-long period.

Survey statistics
167 participants
1 month survey period
95% of participants probed
On average 56 hacking attempts per day
68% of hacking attempts used the Backdoor.SubSeven Trojan

A firewall sits between a PC and its net connection, watches all the data traffic passing back and forth and sifts out or blocks anything that looks dangerous.

The volunteers were home users and small businesses who used both dial-up and high speed net connections.

Over the month-long survey period 1,703 hack attempts were made, and 159 of the 167 participants enjoyed the attentions of hackers. One participant was subjected to 91 separate hacking attempts.

"We want to alert people to the reality that attempts to find out whether or not your system is vulnerable happened in 95% of the people surveyed," said Aled Miles, UK managing director of Symantec.

'Automated threat'

Mr Miles said the hacking attempts were not people being individually attacked by malicious hackers, but were visits by the software probes that have become the preferred tool for many computer criminals.

Typically these scanning programs look for unpatched loopholes in programs, or machines still using default software settings that let almost anyone use the computer.

Often the machines recruited with these software scanners are used to launch remote attacks on other websites.

Almost 70% of the hacking attempts were trying to install a trojan called Backdoor.SubSeven that can give remote access to, and control over, a computer.

"There's an automated threat out there and people should take responsibility and action to protect themselves," said Mr Miles.

See also:

24 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
'Trojans' open online accounts
24 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Web warning centre in net attack
22 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Cheese beats crackers
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