9/29/2009
05:54 AM
Gadi Evron
Gadi Evron
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Dutch ISPs Sign Anti-Botnet Treaty

Netherlands ISPs last month launched a joint effort to fight malware-infected computers and botnets -- fondly described by locals as a "treaty."



Netherlands ISPs last month launched a joint effort to fight malware-infected computers and botnets -- fondly described by locals as a "treaty."The effort involves 14 ISPs and 98 percent of the consumer market, and will include:

  • Exchange of relevant information among the cooperating ISPs
  • Quarantine of infected computers
  • Notification of end users by their ISPs

This way, information sharing will lead to better coverage of the issues and a faster response time, quarantine will ensure that infected computers no longer participate in criminal activity or infect others, and, most importantly, the ISPs will take responsibility to notify their victimized users so they can take action.

This will probably cause some ISPs to lose money. But given that ISPs are a competitive group, I doubt they entered this treaty without reason. Abuse-handling has always been a losing business for ISPs. Just imagine having to pay abuse personnel so they disconnect your clients, and you lose more money.

So what changed for Dutch ISPs?

In recent years, bot-infected computers have been a growing problem for end-user ISPs, as more and more resources are being wasted and not paid for. And the growing global threat of DDoS attacks and other security concerns have shown ISPs that to get help in case of DDoS attack, they need to be a more friendly and reputable service themselves.

The risk of bot-infected computers is also relevant to the country in question because the more computers that are easily available for compromise from outside the country, the more vulnerable the country is to an attack from within, as seen during the 2007 Estonian attacks ("The First Internet War").

Losing customers won't be a major risk with the treaty because other ISPs will be using the same quarantine measures for infected computers.

Then again, maybe the local ISPs have just shown they are socially aware and took responsibility for their part in the safety of the Internet and their users, possibly even paying a certain price out of their bottom line for it.

"It is important that ISPs collectively battle this problem and protect their customers as well as prevent nuisance to the rest of the internet. A safe Internet is pivotal but not natural," says Albert Vergeer, director of Internet for KPN, XS4ALL, and Telfort.

Historically, either a financial incentive or regulatory intervention (such as in Finland) was required to get this type of cooperation. What makes this Dutch ISP treaty special is the willing cooperation without such measures.

But information sharing and cooperation amongs ISPs isn't exactly new. I have had the honor of being one of the people to facilitate such efforts in the past decade.

A written agreement like this in the Netherlands is a huge leap forward in the fight against cybercrime because it's a signed agreement rather than just a goodwill-based effort, and it's among financial entities rather than technical and operational people trying to help each other in their free time to combat the most recent common threat. Time will tell how effective it will be.

Meanwhile, last month the Internet Industry Association (IIA) in Australia recommended that ISPs take a similar stance by accepting a voluntary code of conduct to perform much the same tasks as the Netherlands treaty does. We wish them luck. Perhaps the industry has now matured enough to take such steps.

Chris Fonteijn, chairman of OPTA, had this to say: "Consumers are not even aware of their computer being a host to a bot network, let alone that they know how to undo it. That is why I am pleased to learn that ISPs will help consumers with cleaning up their computers so we can all work together on a safer Internet."

OPTA is not a party to this covenant, but was an instigator of the project and participated actively in the talks and negotiations. As such, OPTA will present on the subject at the upcoming LAP/CNSA workshop in Lisbon.

Thpugh this new treaty is the right way to go, we cannot put all of the responsibility for securing the Internet on the ISPs. It isn't fair, and it isn't right. Many ISPs will not want to follow the Dutch example, but that the Dutch took this step forward is a very promising sign.

Regardless, I foresee a growth market for PC technicians and antivirus software in the Netherlands, as users become aware of the problem and still want to connect to the Internet. And it may also boost sales for new PCs there, as users look to upgrade to more secure systems rather than constantly fixing their older, more vulnerable ones.

Follow Gadi Evron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gadievron

Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading. Gadi is CEO and founder of Cymmetria, a cyber deception startup and chairman of the Israeli CERT. Previously, he was vice president of cybersecurity strategy for Kaspersky Lab and led PwC's Cyber Security Center of Excellence, located in Israel. He is widely recognized for ... View Full Bio

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