China, not the US, holds the dubious distinction of having the highest number of private computers that have been commandeered by hackers with malicious intent, according to a report by McAfee, an Internet security firm.
MaCafee monitors Internet-based threats targeting computers in 120 countries. It found that in the fourth quarter of last year, about 1,095,000 computers in China and 1,057,000 in the US had been infected.
Those numbers don’t count the roughly 10 million computers in each country that had previously been infected.
Infected, or “zombie” computers are typically linked together as botnets and then used to send spam e-mail or launch Denial of Service attacks on Web sites.
McAfee suggested that Chinese computers are particularly vulnerable to hackers since software piracy is common there, and computer users frequently do not download patches for their machines.
In a recent speech about Internet freedom, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested that the Internet is a “global networked commons” for which “norms of behavior” ought to be developed by nations.
“An attack on one nation’s networks can be an attack on all,” she said. “Countries or individuals that engage in cyberattacks should face consequences and international condemnation.”
The US will have trouble heeding Clinton’s call for accountability and norms because it has so many infected computers. “The government could crack down on botnets, but doing so would raise the cost of software or Internet access and would be controversial,” Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith wrote in the Washington Post.
“So it has not acted, and the number of dangerous botnet attacks from America grows.”