Are ISPs wising up to tech threats?

It sounds like a lovely dream...

It sounds like a lovely dream...

ISPs have recently come in for fresh criticism for not working hard enough to protect consumers and businesses from the threats which exist online. But now some are stepping up to the plate to combat the growing menace of spam and spyware.

According to one company which claims to work with "the top two ISPs in the world", increased importance is being placed on diagnostics and intelligence gathering about what data is flowing over the network and, crucially, where it is going and why.

Gary Jackson, SVP of field operations at geolocation solution provider Quova, told silicon.com his company's ISP customers are looking at data and working to spot traffic which could indicate fraud or criminal activity.

Large amounts of data travelling to or from blacklisted IP addresses would raise an instant red flag.

Also, consumer ISPs in Europe or the US might only expect to see limited traffic between their servers and servers in Russia or China, for example. A significant hike in traffic above what they might reasonably expect may also be taken as an indication of criminal activity which could be going on without the affected user being aware.

In the case of spyware relaying information back to criminals, this 'unbeknownst factor' would almost certainly be the case.

Jackson told silicon.com: "ISPs are looking for patterns and can also identify suspicious activity."

But it's not all being done purely out of the goodness of their heart. Jackson said there is a quid pro quo in that the use of geolocation-based solutions enables ISPs to provide more targeted advertising to surfers.

"There is something in it for them as well," Jackson said, though it is easy to argue the better protection of customers and the increased confidence in the internet which that engenders also brings with it considerable benefits.

Telewest's UK consumer ISP Blueyonder was recently thrust into the spotlight after its servers were blacklisted due to the large amounts of spam its customers were relaying from compromised home PCs.

And while companies such as Telewest are perfectly positioned to recognise unusual patterns in the data travelling over their infrastructure, it has long been believed they have little interest in acting upon the information they can see before them.

Jackson says that is changing with the availability of new technology but it is likely the cynics will take some persuading.