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Today's botnet herders have hundreds of thousands of computers at their command and use technically sophisticated ways to hide their headquarters, making it easy for them to make millions from spam and credit card theft. They can also be used to direct floods of fake traffic at a targeted website in order to bring down a rival, extract protection money or less frequently, used to make a political point in the case of attacks on Estonia and the Church of Scientology.
"Terrorism with botnets is overrated," McAfee's Telafici said. "But if you are looking at the economic burden of botnets, we could probably do without it."