The rise of the botnet is an interesting feature of contemporary computing. Essentially, it is a network of compromised computers belonging to individuals and businesses, now in control of some other individual or group without the knowledge or permission of the former group. These networks are used to spread spam, defraud people, and otherwise exploit the internet system.
A combination of factors have contributed to the present situation. The first is how virtually all computers are now networked. Using a laptop on a plane is a disconcerting experience, because you just expect to be able to check the BBC headlines or access some notes you put online. The second is the relative insecurity of operating systems. Some seem to be more secure than others, namely Linux and Mac OS X, but that may be more because fewer people use them than because they are fundamentally more secure. In a population of 95% sheep, sheep diseases will spread a lot faster than diseases that affect the goats who are the other 5%. The last important factor is the degree to which both individuals and businesses are relatively unconcerned (and not particularly liable) when it comes to what their hijacked computers might be up to.
Botnets potentially affect international peace and security, as well. Witness the recent cyberattacks unleashed against Estonia. While some evidence suggests they were undertaken by the Russian government, it is very hard to know with certainty. The difficulty of defending against such attacks also reveals certain worrisome problems with the present internet architecture.
The FBI is apparently on the case now, though the task will be difficult, given the economics of information security.