Information Warfare: Squeezing The Chokepoint

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November 17, 2008: After years of efforts by Internet security firms and volunteer "white hat" (the good guys) hackers, governments are forcing ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to stop providing essential access for Internet criminals. The most recent take-down, of ISP McColo Corporation, caused worldwide spam traffic to decline by over 50 percent in one day. In the past year, two other similar ISPs, the Russian Business Network and Intercage, had similar, but not as dramatic, impact on spam traffic, and Internet based criminal activity in general, when they were shut down.

The basic tactic here was to compile a report of the known criminal activity being conducted via a particular ISP, and then present it to police authorities (like the FBI in the U.S.). What made this work was that evidence was found that child pornography sites were hosted on places like McColo. While ISPs cannot be held legally responsible for most customer activity, copyright infringement and child pornography are two things the ISP can be prosecuted for it they know it's on their servers, and do nothing about it. While the ISPs doing the hosting, like McColo, will play games with the authorities (moving the criminal sites to another server, or shutting them down and then letting them start again under a different name), you can take the same evidence to the ISPs that "peer" (connect to) the offending ISP, and get them to disconnect with the offending ISP. Since the Internet is a network of networks, if an ISP cannot connect to the "web" of thousands of ISPs (especially the major ones), they are not connected to the Internet. That's how McColo, the Russian Business Network and Intercage got shut down. And that's how new ISPs, specializing in supporting criminals, will get shut down.

The Internet has become a battlefield between evil hackers (the black hats) and their equally determined opponents the good hackers (the white hats). The battle often involves military sites, and national security. It's no accident. The Internet was designed so that it would be invulnerable in nuclear war. The net software was put together in the open, often by volunteers. Few of the net's authors thought their creation would become a worldwide electronic superhighway with more than a billion users.

Internet crime, particularly spam (unsolicited email) has become a big money maker. Because of the very low cost of sending it, you need only one response for several million spam messages, to make lots of money. But the same ISPs that host the spammers, also host operations that try to sneak into business, government and personal computers to steal stuff (bank account information, trade secrets, classified military information). As much as the bad guys try to find places to hide, they tend to congregate at unscrupulous ISPs that will charge a bit extra, and look the other way. Now these rogue ISPs are under attack, and this will slow down the Internet bandits, and increase their cost of doing business. The chase is on, and the good guys are not going to give up.

 


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