The Conficker worm is scheduled to activate on April 1, reports the New York Times, and the unanswered question is: Will it prove to be the world’s biggest April Fool’s joke — or much, much worse? Conficker is spread by exploiting several weaknesses in Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Various versions of the software have spread widely around the globe since October, and an estimated 12 million or more machines have been infected. It’s possible to detect and remove Conficker using commercial antivirus tools offered by many companies. However, the most recent version of the program has a dramatically improved capacity to remove commercial antivirus software and to turn off Microsoft’s security update service. It can also block communications with web services provided by security companies to update their products. It even systematically opens holes in firewalls to improve its communication with other infected computers. Given the sophisticated nature of the worm, the question remains: What is the purpose of Conficker, which could possibly become the world’s most powerful parallel computer on April 1? That’s when the worm will generate 50,000 domain names and systematically attempt to communicate with each one. The authors then only need to register one of the domain names in order to take control of the millions of zombie computers that have been created…

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