Malware billed as threat to 9,000 Canadian computers, but few signs of it

TORONTO – A lot more people in Canada were online reading about the latest computer threat rather than suffering through it.

One of the country’s major Internet service providers received less than dozen calls Monday about an international online security threat that made headlines because it had the potential to take down tens of thousands of computers — including 9,000 in Canada.

Bell Canada (TSX:BCE) was prepared for about 1,000 of its customers to be affected by the DNS Changer Malware, but few actually were, said spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis in an email.

Another Internet service provider, TekSavvy, said it also did not see an increase in calls to its technical support department. The company in Chatham, Ont., has 160,000 customers in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and in the Maritimes. A spokesperson for Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) was unavailable.

The FBI had warned Internet users that many would not be able to surf the web, check email or go onto social networking sites when it turned off its temporary computer servers that had been set up eight months ago to fight an online scam.

But by the afternoon, there were few reports of computers forced to go offline.

The Internet outage threatened to take down roughly 211,000 computers in the U.S., Canada and across Europe.

Canadian online security expert Chris Davis says he’s puzzled about why so few Internet users had been hit.

“The only thing I can guess is (they’re) real casual Internet users who essentially don’t use their computer every day maybe,” said Davis, who runs the Ottawa-based Secure Domain Foundation, a non-profit organization tasked with combating malware threats.

“(The malware) is a real thing.”

Last fall, the FBI discovered computer hackers who were involved in an online scam that used fake servers to infiltrate and infect computers, sending users to websites containing rogue ads from which the scammers profited.

When the hacking ring was shut down, the agency set up temporary servers as a safety net so people wouldn’t immediately lose their Internet service.

The FBI, along with a number of Internet service providers including Bell and Shaw (TSX:SJR.B) in Canada, had been warning online users for the past few months to check their computers for the hidden malware and have them fixed. The FBI servers went offline as of 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Davis said malware threats have essentially replaced computer viruses.

“Computer viruses don’t exist anymore. A virus used to get on your computer, mess it up, cause it to crash and cause all kinds of problems,” he said. “It was malicious for the sake of being malicious.”

Modern-day hackers now use malware, which is much more difficult for the average Internet user to detect.

“Modern malware is designed to get on your computer. It’s designed to evade all of the security software that you could possibly purchase in this day and age,” said Davis.

“Once it’s on there, it hides. It’s incredibly stealthy.”

He recommends online users to regularly update their computer software, use a trusted anti-virus program and avoid going on questionable websites.

Davis said more than 100,000 malware threats are released onto the Internet each day.

–With files from the Associated Press