New research reveals that 6.7 million additional bots joined the global botnet in 2016, with Chicago and Washington D.C. as the leading U.S. cities in fueling botnet-enabled attacks.
The news comes with the approach of the one-year anniversary of the Mirai botnet attacks, which infected almost 500,000 connected devices and brought much of the internet to a standstill.
Bots are internet-connected devices infected with malware that allow hackers to remotely take control of many devices at a time. When combined, these devices form powerful bot networks (botnets) that can spread malware, generate spam and commit other types of crime and fraud online – often without victims even realizing what is happening to their devices.
The research from Norton by Symantec found that these botnets also have a longer lifespan now, lasting an average of 51 days in 2016 compared to the 2015 average bot lifespan of eight days.
In addition, 20 percent of all attacks originated from devices in the United States, the second highest source globally. Chicago and Washington D.C. hosted 4.6 percent and 4.1 percent of the U.S. bot population respectively, containing more bots per capita than the countries of Belgium, Sri Lanka and Austria.
The findings also revealed that the United States is the eighth largest home to bots globally, with 3.1 percent of the world’s infected devices residing here. However, when comparing the proportion of bot infections to the country’s number of internet users, the U.S. dropped significantly in the global rankings, standing in 153rd place for bot density with one bot for every 93 users.
“The size of a bot population can depend on many factors, but cities where there is a large number of internet-connected devices, such as computers or servers, or where there has been a recent uptick in the acquisition of high-speed, internet-connected devices, seem to be lucrative sources for cybercriminals to infect,” said Kevin Haley, security expert at Symantec.
Interestingly, Rome’s Holy See has the world’s highest rate of bot infection, with one bot for every five Vatican internet users.
“More than 689 million people were victims of online crime in the past year, and bots and botnets are a key tool in the cyberattacker’s arsenal,” commented Candid Wueest, Norton Security expert. “It’s not just computers that are providing criminals with their robot army; in 2016, we saw cybercriminals making increasing use of smartphones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to strengthen their botnet ranks. Servers also offer a much larger bandwidth capacity for a DDoS attack than traditional consumer PCs.”