US FCC approves Aussie-like anti-zombie code

Despite strong opposition to an Australian-like voluntary anti-botnet iCode, where ISPs inform customers of botnet infections, a US Federal Communications Commission council has approved it.

The Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council has voted to approve the hotly contested ISP-led anti-botnet program, similar to Australia’s i-Code -- an initiative led by Australia’s Internet Industry Association and its former chief Peter Coroneos.

"Today, an industry advisory group for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Communications, Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council (CSRIC), unanimously adopted recommendations for voluntary action by Internet service providers (ISPs) to combat three major cyber security threats, including botnets, attacks on the Domain Name System (DNS), and Internet route hijacking,” the FCC said in a statement.

It will mean that ISPs include ATT, CenturyLink, Comcast, Cox, Sprint, Time Warner Cable, T-Mobile and Verizon and others will participate in a range of programs that include an “anti-bot code of conduct”, Domain Name Service “best practices” and an “IP Route Hijacking Industry Framework.”

One feature distinguishing the Australian system from the US one is the act of disconnecting an infected customer from the internet until the infection is remediated.

Under the anti-botnet code US ISPs agreed to “educate consumers about the botnet threat, take steps to detect botnet activity on their networks, make consumers aware of botnet infections on their computers, offer assistance to consumers whose computers are infected and collaborate with other service providers that have also adopted the Anti-Bot Code,” said the FCC.

Comcast, the largest ISP in the US, has already been notifying customers of infections for some time, and rolled their own program out nationally in 2010, according to security blogger Brian Krebs.

ISPs will also work towards protecting DNS, the web’s address book system, through a set of “best practices” that the FCC said will aid the adoption of DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions) aimed at improving authentication of DNS data to ensure that web users land at the page they aim to reach.

“This recommendation is a significant first step toward full DNSSEC implementation by ISPs and will allow users, with software applications like browsers, to validate that the destination they are trying to reach is authentic and not a spoofed website,” said the FCC.

Microsoft appears to be endorsing the new code, even though it initially warned against it after the US Department of Commerce unit, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), sought feedback on the proposal last September.

“The code importantly covers all phases of botnet response. Education and prevention are critical to getting ahead of the problem. When an infection does occur we want to be able to detect it quickly and accurately before further harm can be done. ISPs can then notify the affected consumer in a manner that maximizes effectiveness and resists fraud,” said Kevin Sullivan senior security strategist at Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group.

Alan Paller, the director of research at the Sans Institute (PDF) and member of the CSRIC, told CSO Australia that he spoke in favour of the US adopting the iCode-like program, noting however, a lesson learned in Australia's iCode program, that it would have no substantial effect unless the US instituted a metrics system that measured and celebrated success. Paller also said he asked the Chairman of the CSIRC to re-open the authorisation of ABC (the US voluntary code) in one year to ensure that the metrics are in place and it is working. The Chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, also addressed the group and emphasised the need to measure effectiveness of the measures adopted today, according to Paller.

Former IIA chief Peter Coroneos, who visited the White House to discuss Australia’s initiative with White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt last May, in response defended Australia’s program. Even though the iCode failed to achieve a greater than 50 per cent reduction in botnet malware in Australia since its introduction in 2010, as Paller noted, Coroneos said it was “unrealistic” to expect such change.

Paller based his criticisms of Australia’s system based on data from the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA), which showed that bot figures were actually rising throughout 2011, despite the ISP notification program.

The IIA and ACMA jointly coordinate the Australian Internet Security Initiative (AISI) with ISPs and it is responsible for notifying iCode participants of customer infections.

ACMA’s e-security operations manager, Bruce Matthews, who runs ACMA’s Australian Internet Security Initiative (AISI), blamed the uptick in Australian infections on including data on previously uncounted DNSChanger trojan infections.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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