A global online ad scam may result in over 300,000 Internet users losing their access to the web from July 9 this year, said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (F.B.I.) on Wednesday, after shutting down an Estonian hacking ring that has been in operation for at least four years.
The virus, named "DNS Changer", had been designed to redirect the web browsers of victims from sites they wanted to visit to ones controlled by the gang. Though the perpetrators have already been caught and their servers substituted by clean ones, the F.B.I will need to turn off the replacement servers on July 9, with the cost of the servers having run up to about $87,000 thus far.
"We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands because … if we just pulled the plug on their criminal infrastructure and threw everybody in jail, the victims of this were going to be without Internet service," said Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent, to the Associated Press.
"The average user would open up Internet Explorer and get 'page not found' and think the Internet is broken."
Accordingly, the F.B.I. has set up a new website for Internet users to check if they have been infected, with further instructions on the site how to fix the problem.
While the F.B.I. are unable to pinpoint the exact number of victims involved, they believe that the sum is likely to be around 360,000 – down from the original estimate of 568,000 users, coming just days after the arrest.
The problem will also not be confined to just the United States, with about 20,000 victims expected to come from Italy, India, England, and Germany each, while a significant number of users from Spain, France, Canada, China and Mexico are also expected to be affected.
The hackers in the case are believed to be have earned over US$14 million ($17.2 million) in the process. Victims are unlikely to be aware of the issue as the virus has no observable outward symptoms apart from a slight decrease in web-browsing speed, coupled with the fact that it is able to circumvent any antivirus software that a computer may have.
Check if your computer is infected via this link.