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Bots Bad, People Worse

Less than 24 hours since InformationWeek went live with its exclusive pointing to evidence of bot infiltration within computers of federal and state government agencies, the reaction has been strong. Based on feedback to my colleague Tom Claburn's blog posting and through
October 06, 2006
Less than 24 hours since InformationWeek went live with its exclusive pointing to evidence of bot infiltration within computers of federal and state government agencies, the reaction has been strong. Based on feedback to my colleague Tom Claburn's blog posting and through Slashdot, readers clearly understand the gravity of the situation and the need to do something about it. Plenty of finger pointing--at the government, at Microsoft, even at the media--but, above all, a message that it's people, not technology, that are to blame for the bot problem. People are to blame for creating the bots, and people are to blame for not adequately defending themselves.One commentator, identified as rahrens (939941) and claiming to be a government employee, notes, "If an Agency is willing to spend the money, time and energy to put in place the protections that the typical Government information system deserves, this wouldn't be a problem ... It is not a perfect system, and it takes constant diligence to maintain and periodically upgrade, but I think we do a pretty good job."

Another reader, "Doug from San Diego," who contacted Tom Claburn directly, observes, "You put up a good story Thomas but the only thing I would have added was a twist/comment on how not only do these businesses THINK they are protected when many are not, they don't even change when it is found they are NOT protected as in the case with the virus/BOT which took so many government and business offices down. They just patch and react to the current issue and keep doing the same over and over." The capitalized words came directly from Doug's e-mail.

Government even criticized government. "As someone who has worked in government IT, I can tell you that the biggest problem that we faced security-wise was the bureaucracy of the government ... What you end up with in government IT (and, hence cyber-security) is often a bunch of guys used to doing the same thing every day; never learning anything new; who have grown burned-out, disenchanted, and cynical with the whole process," writes elrous0 (869638).

Several commentators blamed the government's use of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer as contributing greatly to the problem (one even criticized the media for not taking Microsoft to task for its poor security track record). Included in this criticism was mention of the Homeland Security Department's warning two years ago that users of MS Internet Explorer should use another browser.

"not [sic] one organization at the state or local level took any action when the Department of Homeland Security(DHS) put out a warning against using MS Internet Explorer when a major risk was found and left open by Microsoft for over 3 months. Heck, three departments in my city were shutdown for a day when one of the Microsoft Windows bot software was 'failing' and resulted in some of the infected computers to constantly reboot. Yet, after that, questions presented about continued use of MS IE resulted in answers like, 'with limited budgets they are doing the best they can' and 'balancing financial impacts and security risks results in some tough choices', etc."

And finally, this observation from webweave (94683): "Should the headline then read 'Government gives Microsoft billions and still has bot problem'? So much for the idea that paying for commercial software produces better software."

Everyone's a critic. Anyway, you can read more about our research into the botnet problem--in both the public and private sectors--in the Oct. 9 issue of InformationWeek. Be sure to drop us a line after you read the story and share your thoughts.