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Taking Action: Protect Your PC From “Internet Doomsday”

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - It's been called an "Internet Doomsday" - a day when tens of thousands of computers across the United States could suddenly lose access to the web.

On July 9th, many Americans could wake up with broken Internet connections - all because of some malware you might never have heard of. In 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it had taken down an international crime ring behind DNSChanger software. An estimated 500,000 computers in the United States were infected before the bust.

DNSChanger took over servers, using them to route infected computers to scam websites as users tried to visit normal ones. Tens of thousands of Americans may still not realize their computers are infected but on Monday morning that will change.

"On July 9th, when you log onto the Internet, it's gonna show that the Internet connection's broken," explained D.A. Slinkard, a repair expert with Staples in Decatur.

The FBI made sure the rogue servers involved in the hacking operation were cleaned-up but they couldn't be shut down immediately.

"If they pulled the plug they wouldn't have been able to have due process involved to get the international hackers," Slinkard noted. In addition to that, victims needed time to fix their computers. A July 9th deadline was set.

So how can you tell if your computer has been infected? You can visit dns-ok.us to perform an easy test. If you get a green message, you're likely in the clear. If it's red you'll need to fix it. The DNSChanger Working Group, a team of Internet security experts helping with clean up, actually has several detection websites available. They're listed here, along with instructions on how to fix your machine.

If you are infected and have recently visited Facebook or Google, you may also have seen warnings pop up. Both companies are working to get the word out.

DNSChanger by the way, isn't just a problem for PCs - it can also screw up Macs and your home router. That means you could visit one of the malware detection sites noted above from one computer in your home and all will register as being infected.

If you're uncomfortable trying to fix your computer using the guidelines linked above, take it to a repair professional. Slinkard said the cost of clearing a system will vary on a case-by-case basis. He stresses though that repair shouldn't mark the end of your concern. There are always more hackers eager to crack into your system.

"If you're not sure about what you're about to click on, or what it is... If you have to question... Then chances are it's not a good idea," Slinkard emphasized. That caution, using complex passwords and changing them often, plus investing in quality anti-virus software, will do a lot to keep you protected in the future.