A global initiative of public and private organizations is needed to eliminate computer-effecting botnets, according to a new paper from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
The report was written by Robert Knake, senior fellow for cyber policy at CFR and senior research scientist at Northeastern University’s Global Resilience Institute, and Jason Healey, senior research scholar in the Faculty of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.
Criminals use botnets, or groups of computers infected with malicious software, to propagate spam, send phishing emails, guess passwords, impersonate users, and break the encryption, the report stated. Botnets are also used to carry out distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks result in individual computers that make up the botnet to send internet traffic to a target, thereby blocking legitimate traffic.
As much as 30 percent of all internet traffic may be attributable to botnets, the report said. Many DDoS attacks are used by companies to take down their competitors’ websites or servers. China, Russia, and Iran, however, have all harnessed botnets for geopolitical purposes, according to the report.
Knake and Healey contend that government must partner with the private sector to fight this threat. As Knake explained in a recent blog post, a public-private partnership to combat botnets doesn’t have to be initiated by government agencies. Private companies may be better suited to place pressure on the actors that enable botnets to persist, he wrote.
Knake noted that most botnet takedowns had been led by private companies, such as Microsoft, which has pursued more than a dozen. Financial services firms are particularly vulnerable to them, getting hit on a daily basis with botnet-enabled fraud, Knake wrote.
A relatively small effort would help significantly reduce botnet infections, according to Knake’s post. The formation of a new organization to coordinate takedown activities would be a good place to start. A new anti-botnet organization could be used to pressure device makers, website registrars, cloud computing providers, and internet service providers (ISPs) to improve cyber hygiene.
“I can guarantee that it would only take the slightest amount of pressure from its largest customers to get Amazon to figure out a way to keep its on-demand computing platform from being botmasters’ preferred platform,” Knake wrote in his blog post on the CFR website.
The organization could also pressure device makers to prevent initial infections and make cleanup of infected devices easier.