'Dream Team' Takes on Black Hats

Feds, law enforcement, ISPs, and researchers pow-wow in closed meeting on how to catch the bad guys

A secretive summit of law enforcement, federal government, ISPs, and select members of the research community held in Washington, D.C., yesterday and today had the distinct air of a hunt -- a manhunt.

According to sources who were there, the closed-door Internet Security Operations and Intelligence III (ISOI3) meeting focused more on going after the bad guys behind botnets and cybercrime than just studying malware, as in previous summits. (See Microsoft's 'Secret' Security Summit.)

"Instead of the high-level 'here is this type of malware' being used, [there were signs] that there have been some good strides in tracking the black hats," says Dan Hubbard, vice president of security research at Websense, who gave a briefing on the Storm worm.

Although some content from the summit is confidential, and law enforcement participants didn't disclose details of their investigations and cases, participants did get a peek at at least one about-to-be-broken cybercrime case. "We got a rare glimpse of information about a case that hasn't been brought [forward] yet, but they have collected enough information that prosecution and conviction is highly probable," says Randy Abrams, director of technical information for Eset.

But that's not to say the good guys are anywhere near gaining major ground on the bad guys. "It really is a war," Abrams says. "We're not close to turning the battle" yet, he says. "But we are beginning to see some results from this collaboration."

The purpose of the summit, the brainchild of Gadi Evron, a botnet expert with Beyond Security, is for feds, law enforcement, and researchers to share information and techniques for tracking and stopping attackers, and to help them collaborate on tracking the bad guys.

"The hallway conversations are really valuable," says Jose Nazario, senior security researcher for Arbor Networks. "You're able to get a lot done in person and share a lot of information that you wouldn't normally share in email or phone calls. It's about having the right people together -- top-level researchers, law enforcement, and operators."

Although there were no earth shattering revelations here, there were some provocative presentations as well as some surprising tidbits. Eset's Abrams says he was most surprised to learn from a domain blacklisting briefing yesterday that only a low percentage of attackers are actually doing so-called "domain name-tasting," where they register for a domain for a few days, and then abandon it without paying to evade detection. "Compared with various other kinds of domain abuses, that ranks pretty low, although some people are taking advantage of it for malicious purposes."

One of the final sessions today was a "what's next" open discussion, where one suggestion kicked around for raising awareness among users of the botnet problem was a Wall of Shame for ISPs, registrars, and other backbone suppliers that either aren't doing anything about botnet abuse on their networks, or "aren't playing nice with researchers," Abrams says.

There could also be a Hall of Fame for those providers that are making strides in cleaning up and preventing the botnet problem, some attendees noted.

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  • ESET
  • Websense Inc. (Nasdaq: WBSN)
  • Arbor Networks Inc.
  • Beyond Security Ltd.