Thousands may lose Internet access when FBI shuts down servers

Hundreds of thousands of people could lose Internet service on Monday when the FBI shuts down servers from an online fraud ring that allegedly planted a virus among computer users.

The FBI says about 252,000 computers worldwide could be affected and that about 45,000 of those computers are in the United States.

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Users can check whether their computer is infected with the malicious software — often called malware — by visiting dcwg.org, a site run in cooperation with the FBI, or by visiting an anti-virus site such as McAfee.

The problem stems from an alleged Internet fraud ring that the FBI shut down in November. Prosecutors said the hackers used a virus to hijack Internet searches and re-rout computers to paid websites and advertisements.

The FBI realized that if it shut down the servers that were used to control the infected computers, all of those people would suddenly be kicked off the Internet.

So in an unusual move, the FBI set up clean servers to allow the infected computers to continue accessing the Web. But the servers were only meant to be a temporary fix to give people time to clear out the malware.

The FBI will shut down the clean servers at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Monday, July 9.

That means thousands of people might be unable to access the Internet and will have to call their Internet service provider for help deleting the malware.

Many Internet providers have already contacted customers who are infected. Comcast, for example, says it has reached out to infected users with emails, letters, in-browser notifications and even phone calls.

Charlie Douglas, a spokesman for Comcast, said the company believes that only a "tiny fraction" of its users will be affected.

Google and Facebook have also posted messages to alert people whose computers might be infected.

—This post was updated at 11:02 a.m.