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Government and Botnets

Laura Atkins

The US government is looking at telling ISPs how to deal with compromised customers and botnets.

They're a bit late to the party, though. Most of the major commercial ISPs have been implementing significant botnet controls for many years now. Control involves a number of different techniques, but notification has been designed into the system from day 1.

"There is no need for mandated action in this area since the market is already moving forward. Many ISPs are already doing a great deal to combat the menace of bots and malware. All over the U.S., ISPs currently have notification systems in place to tell their users they are infected and — whether they deliver these warnings via email, phone, walled gardens, or inline warnings — the warnings are being delivered," says Michael O'Reirdan, chairman of the MAAWG. "Other ISPs currently have pilot programs or technology development efforts in place, and there will be more deployments in the near future."

O'Reirdan says ISPs handled the spam battle on their own, and can also do so for battling bots. It has become a business issue for them, he says. "No one had to mandate anti-spam platforms: ISPs put them in place to deal with the menace of spam because, if they had not, they would have lost customers if customers' mailboxes were overrun with spam. The same is happening with anti-bot platforms. It is becoming a 'table stakes' issue for ISPs, and legislating in this arena will merely lock the response of ISPs in stone to conform with the legislation rather than allow innovation and development to meet the rapidly varying nature of the bot challenge posed by the bad guys," he says.Kelly Jackson Higgins

The ISPs have taken a leadership position in the area of protecting consumers from botnets. This has been a major discussion point at MAAWG for years. Many ISPs have worked closely with vendors to create detection and notification systems to mitigate and clean botnet infections.

By Laura Atkins, Founding partner of anti-spam consultancy & software firm Word to the Wise. More blog posts from Laura Atkins can also be read here.

Related topics: Access Providers, Cyberattack, Cybercrime, Cybersecurity, Internet Governance, Malware, Policy & Regulation


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It is a remarkably well written document I'd say Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 06, 2011 11:03 PM PDT

What it suggests are best practice - and how many ISPs outside the big ones that attend MAAWG do you think implement the sort of mitigation that you mention?  How many MAAWG members for that matter, other than say comcast and one or two others?

If not this, what then? Wout de Natris  –  Oct 07, 2011 4:37 AM PDT

If this is not the way forward for the US government, what can be steps for governments to proceed? From my point of view disinfecting end users is, albeit very necessary, curing effects and not the cause. They could be infected again on the same day.

The taking down of botnets however are still exceptions and wide apart. So what are the challenges for governments, including law enforcement, and industry to step up these efforts? What are the alternatives? I would also like to hear that, instead of just saying: "we don't need this". Self regulation of the Internet may become something governments do not accept as sufficient any time soon. If they haven't already. Industry faces the choice of coming up with plausible alternatives or face regulation. And perhaps regulation that it does not want, need or may even be harmful to the way the Internet runs.

Industry does have options left. E.g. Learning to share data and cooperation, yes, also with law enforcement, could be a way forward. And yes, again I come back to my hobby horse, transparent and analyzed data. This will aid all parties to act differently.

The U.S. government is seriously thinking about how to act in a complicated, but threatening, situation. This could also be seen as something positive. If industry reached out, pro-actively, just maybe it could enter into dialogue and discuss solutions that actually all can benefit from and keep regulation at bay, or come up with regulation it can agree to. Simply because it's beneficial.

Sorry if this sounds far out, but governments will move and it's your choice, now, how to deal with that.

Happy to discuss further.

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