How Do We Respond to Botnets?

In our office, we’ve been spending some time discussing a recent Wired article titled “Attack of the Bots.

The article is more than disturbing to us, in that it reveals some possibly serious fault lines in the structure of the Internet. Basically, a botnet (a fleet of infected PCs) can receive remote instructions to perform a variety of nasty things, from denial of service attacks to spam email propagation. Those who control the botnets can strong-arm online sites into oblivion. Even first tier service providers can be taken down.

To us, it sounds like the Internet has moved from the “Wild West” to “Chicago Mobsters.” At the same time, at OES, we are trying to respond to a surprising increase of SPAM trying to penetrate our email system. For most of last year, our anti-spam device was rejecting approximately 50% of all incoming email. In the past two weeks, it’s been rejecting 75 to 80% of all incoming email, and it’s beginning to allow more through as it captures more legitimate email in it’s quarantine area.

This CNN article, “9 out of 10 e-mails now Spam,” suggests that the cause may also be botnets or similar systems controlled by criminals. If the growth of the SPAM attack continues, I wonder if we’re going to have greater problems.

Last year when I was working on VBulletin systems, I was wondering if it might replace a lot of one-t0-one email by created a shared discussion space for all teachers, students and parents. Access to the site would be pretty strict, so hopefully we wouldn’t have spam problems. It may be time to dust off that idea as a possible fall-back if things get worse.

In terms of the entire Internet, does this mean that other services may be threatened? It’s depressing that the free exchange of information would become captive to strong arm control tactics. Hmmm.

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