Daily Archives: 2009-10-17

apComms backs ISP cleanup activity

The All Party Parliamentary Communications Group (apComms) recently published their report into an inquiry entitled “Can we keep our hands off the net?”

They looked at a number of issues, from “network neutrality” to how best to deal with child sexual abuse images. Read the report for the all the details; in this post I’m just going to draw attention to one of the most interesting, and timely, recommendations:

51. We recommend that UK ISPs, through Ofcom, ISPA or another appropriate
organisation, immediately start the process of agreeing a voluntary code for
detection of, and effective dealing with, malware infected machines in the UK.
52. If this voluntary approach fails to yield results in a timely manner, then we further recommend that Ofcom unilaterally create such a code, and impose it upon the UK ISP industry on a statutory basis.

The problem is that although ISPs are pretty good these days at dealing with incoming badness (spam, DDoS attacks etc) they can be rather reluctant to deal with customers who are malware infected, and sending spam, DDoS attacks etc to other parts of the world.

From a “security economics” point of view this isn’t too surprising (as I and colleagues pointed out in a report to ENISA). Customers demand effective anti-spam, or they leave for another ISP. But talking to customers and holding their hand through a malware infection is expensive for the ISP, and customers may just leave if hassled, so the ISPs have limited incentives to take any action.

When markets fail to solve problems, then you regulate… and what apComms is recommending is that a self-regulatory solution be given a chance to work. We shall have to see whether the ISPs seize this chance, or if compulsion will be required.

This UK-focussed recommendation is not taking place in isolation, there’s been activity all over the world in the past few weeks — in Australia the ISPs are consulting on a Voluntary Code of Practice for Industry Self-regulation in the Area of e-Security, in the Netherlands the main ISPs have signed an “Anti-Botnet Treaty“, and in the US the main cable provider, Comcast, has announced that its “Constant Guard” programme will in future detect if their customer machines become members of a botnet.

ObDeclaration: I assisted apComms as a specialist adviser, but the decision on what they wished to recommend was theirs alone.