New botnet working group forms out of government efforts

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A new working group aimed at tackling the growing epidemic of botnet attacks has been forged as a result of a public feedback period coordinated by U.S. Commerce and Homeland Security departments.

The Industry Botnet Group (IBG) will focus its efforts on cleaning up and also preventing networks of compromised computers, which commonly are used to send spam or deliver punishing distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

A recent report released by the Commerce Department highlights the short-term goals the IBG will pursue, which includes raising public awareness and providing online resources to the botnet epidemic, which has reached millions of computers worldwide.

Comprised of trade associations, companies and privacy and safety organizations, the group is intended to further collaboration and, ultimately, work to create a voluntary model under which internet service providers (ISPs) would notify consumers if their computers are infected.

While several ISPs in the United States do offer notification and remediation services for consumers, there is no uniform model that includes three necessary characteristics -- prevention, detection and remediation. This is the overarching goal of the working group, Craig Spiezle, executive director and president of the Online Trust Alliance, a nonprofit online privacy organization, told SCMagazine.com on Monday.

“For the efforts to combat bots to succeed, we have to take a holistic view,” Spiezle said. “Everything from detection and takedown to prevention and remediation, that's the position that many of us who are stakeholders believe.”

In October, a request for information was aimed at gathering feedback for a program that would build incentive-driven codes of conduct for ISPs to voluntarily detect, notify and possibly assist in the removal of malware on consumers' machines.

Spiezle said a meeting among key stakeholders in the working group and White House officials took place in December. Under discussion was whether the response to the problem should be a private enterprise initiative or a government task force. Ultimately, the IBG settled on a multi-stakeholder collaborative industry effort.

“No disrespect to the government, but unless it's funding, I'm not really sure what they can provide,” Spiezle said. “They have done a great job of bringing stakeholders together and now is the time for industry to take action. There's clearly a role for ISPs, law enforcement, hosters, anti-virus providers, as well as consumers to harden their systems and practice safe computing. We need to all collectively look at the different touchpoints.”

Although it is still in the developing stages, the IBG feeds off of industry collaboration, a characteristic that contributes to a healthier internet ecosystem, he said.

“This is a problem that's hard to eradicate,” Spiezle said. “We want to see others step up to the plate.”

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