Hundreds of thousands of people could lose access to the Internet and San Diegans could be among them. It is because of a computer virus that most people do not even realize they have.
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One stroke, one click was all it took for millions of computers in more than 100 countries to be infected.
"They were redirecting unwitting computer users to websites through adware," said supervisory special agent Terry Reed, who is with the San Diego FBI cyber crime division.
Law enforcement raided a building in Estonia last November, arresting six Estonians and confiscating computer equipment as part of "Operation Ghost Click."
By then, about half a million computers in the United States had been infected.
The cyber criminals hijacked computers and redirected them from legitimate servers to their own phony ones. If a computer was infected, when users clicked on a link for a website, they would be taken instead to a site that had nothing to do with the real site but claimed to sell something related to it.
"Very sophisticated ring," said Reed, "This has become one of the FBI's top threats."
Cyber crime is growing and this one netted at least $14 million, according to the FBI.
In an unusual move, instead of just shutting down the rogue servers, the FBI brought in the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium to install safe servers to take over until people could be notified.
"They would have lost Internet access completely," says Reed, "We wanted to make sure that the people who had been already victimized by this fraud ring did not continue to be victimized."
However, it was only meant to be a stopgap.
Dan Libby, the director and chief examiner of Digital Forensics, Inc. said the simple fix is a free website the FBI advises all users to visit.
On the website, a green screen means no infection. If the computer is infected, the site will help users disinfect, but the problems might not be over.
"You could fix this issue, but I would have my system thoroughly examined by a professional," said Libby.
That is because the virus weakened antivirus systems, making computers vulnerable to other infection.
If the computer is infected, users will not be able to connect to the Internet or use email after the substitute servers are shut down on July 9.
To find out if your computer is infected, visit www.dcwg.org
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