Government must force ISPs to take security seriously

Government must force ISPs to take security seriously

Summary: Service providers are facing increasing pressure to take a more proactive stance when it comes to protecting customers from malware

TOPICS: Security

In a recent interview, the CTO of Messagelabs Mark Sunner claimed the current attitude of ISPs to malware is akin to a water company pumping raw sewage to customers and expecting them to clean it up..

"Advanced scanning needs to be shifted upstream to the Internet level, where it is possible to be proactive as opposed to reactive. Governments really need to put additional pressure on the ISPs to take ownership of the problem, and to filter the connections that they are providing to businesses and to home users," he said.

At the time this analogy seemed a bit overblown but it is an attitude that seems to be gaining ground. Richard Clarke, ex-US cybersecurity Czar, intimated a similar line when he claimed service providers should be taking more responsibility when it comes to the rise in the number of distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks – which cripple web sites by flooding them with requests from multiple sources.

Similar comments have also been made by the chief technology officer of betting exchange Betfair
while research company Mori released a survey this week claiming that that 58 percent of 1,006 consumer respondents said ISPs needed to work harder to protect their customers.

The response from ISPs has been unusually frank and abrupt in these days of PR-polished corporate communications. The UK's two leading telcos -- BT and Cable & Wireless -- responded to calls for them to do more about security and specifically DDoS attacks by claiming those kinds of 'extra' services don't come for free.

Government intervention is needed for anything to change it seems. Pressure could well come in the shape of the communications watchdog Ofcom if the organisation's remit eventually embraces Internet regulation.

Web users demand more protection from ISPs
Survey: Most users want their ISPs to give them better protection from malicious attacks and are even willing to pay more for it

WIth ISPs like this, who needs enemies?
Service providers aren't providing much of a service when it comes to protecting customers from DDOS attacks

ISPs raise the stakes on DDoS attacks
ISPs claim they can do more to protect their customers from DDoS attacks - but only at a price

Betfair: Taking no chances with technology
Supporting some 300 transactions a second, 24/7, UK betting exchange Betfair is up there with the most advanced e-commerce businesses in the world, says the company's CTO David Yu

Straight talking on terrorism
Counter-terrorism advisor to four US presidents Richard Clarke talks to ZDNet UK about cybersecurity, and its importance

'Clean up this Internet effluent now'
Messagelabs CTO Mark Sunner claims that ISPs allowing unfiltered traffic to flow to customers is like a water authority pumping out raw sewage


Topic: Security

Andrew Donoghue

About Andrew Donoghue

"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."

Hunter S. Thompson

Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journalist with over ten years on leading titles such as Computing, SC Magazine, BusinessGreen and

Specialising in sustainable IT and technology in the developing world, he has reported and volunteered on African aid projects, as well as working with charitable organisations such as the UN Foundation and Computer Aid.

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  • What i do or install on my PC should not be the responsibility of my ISP. If i don't use my connection responsibly my ISP should simply disconnect me until i fix my PC.

    It would cost lots to filter data, and i don't see why responsible users should pay more to our ISP's because of the neglectful actions of other users in securing their PC's.

    The people advocating such ideas would earn millions if each ISP had to licence their software for thousands of connections.
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  • On the theory that one man's meat is another man's poison, how do you know if a piece of Internet data is 'good' data or 'bad' data ?
    Maybe I'm configuring a multiplayer game, and the incoming connections look nasty but actually are my friends connecting ?
    Perhaps users should give ISPs an 'expectation profile'; for example 'no inbound connects ,no more than 10 outbound emails per hour, outbound connects only to ports 'smtp' and 'http''
    Smart users to change them when wanted, on self-assessment ,of course.
  • Plenty of freeware and Open Source solutions out there that the ISP's can implement for a nickle and a dime.

    If it's used as a basic service for all the customers of the ISP in question. Usually the (money) problem is that ISP's want to install such services with options to charge by the byte, the minute, the customer. So the price tag comes from making it an extra, an optional, service. Basic services don't have such problems.

    Think for example of a low level anti-spam filter that filters out at least the most obvious of spam for all the customers of the ISP. And given that the ISP has a legal contract of some sort with its customers it should be very easy to get rid of spam sources within their customers install base (eg: by helping granny to cure her zombied PC).

    Think for example of making it a basic service to install anti-dDoS filters on their own routers which most router vendors happen to provide for free.

    Nothing fancy. Just do something about the Top 10. Once that's done do something about the next Top 10 and so forth. The government could maybe put on some advisories. Consumer protection organizations could perform random tests and print the findings.

    The idea being that if enough ISP's would implement such basic services the impact overall will be greater then the sum of its parts. Also because diversity will be build into the total system right from the start because not every ISP will install the exact same solution as the next ISP (so what one doesn't catch the next might etc etc resulting in learning from eachother). And it would save them on their own used bandwidth and transported bytes costs at the same time as well.

    And for those ISP's that want to do more for their customers. They could opt for an additional and optional anti-spam+ or whatever service they can charge extra for.

    Care should be taken that certain ISP's won't filter out to much (or too little). But as long as customers are free to switch their ISP in such cases most ISP will find the balance that they need. Because if they filter out too much then their customers will switch to an ISP that doesn't filter that much. And if they filter too little (or charge too much) then again their customers will switch to an ISP that is more to their liking. Depanding on the amount of lock-in power such an ISP has over its customers ofcourse.