Aug 102007

The UK news this morning (and last night) had an item on about plans to tackle the problem of phishing with various suggestions (most of which make sense). Similar stories about phishing and how people are being ripped off by fraudsters regularly come up on the news. One thing that rarely gets a mention except in passing with a suggestion to run a ‘protected computer’ is how regular computer users who ignore security are contributing to the problem.

Almost all spammers (and phishers) these days use botnets to spew out their sewage; as someone who runs a mail server for a large organisation I regularly take a look at where spams entered the Internet mail system. In the vast majority of cases it has entered via a location that is obviously a client machine operated by an ‘innocent’ person ignorant of what their computer is being used for.

There are plenty of places to point the finger of blame …

  • The companies who produce operating systems that are so vulnerable to being compromised when connected to the Internet.
  • Those who use viruses and worms to create ‘botnets’ of vulnerable machines to be used for a variety of purposes.
  • The ISPs who irresponsibly fail to block outgoing mail not going through their mail servers. Whilst some (me!) should be able to opt out of such a block because we (I) run our own mailserver it should not be open by default.

Finally, the person who runs a computer irresponsibly is also to blame. Obviously not everyone wants to become a security expert, but there are a few easy steps to make it more difficult for your computer to be broken into. And they should accept that if they get infected they could get slung into a ‘quarantine’ … ISPs can and should be able to detect infected machines being used by spammers and sling them into a ‘quarantine’ network with limited functionality. This ‘quarantine’ is dead simple to setup, as I’ve done it myself.

To reduce it to an analogy, if you were to leave a car parked with the handbrake left off are you totally blameless if someone leans against the car and it rolls down a hill and kills someone ? People tend to regard leaving an infected computer online as being a trivial matter; it is not.

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