Qwest Raises the Security Bar For ISPs

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2007-10-05 Print this article Print

Opinion: Rather than risk losing a customer ISPs will generally tolerate a lot of abuse against third parties. Qwest says things will be different from now on.

Just over a year ago I wrote a column about Trend Micros ICSS (InterCloud Security Service). Its a service to assist ISPs in detecting bots on its customer networks and removing them. An extremely cool idea I thought; perhaps the time was upon us when ISPs would actually take measures to clean up their networks? It took a year, but the first big step has been taken. Qwest Communications announced recently that it will take such measures. From what I understand, Qwest is not using ICSS for its service, but it sounds similar. What Qwest is doing is something like NAC for ISP clients, however there are a lot of differences, so I dont want to take that analogy too far. The system actively monitors clients for behaviors characteristic of malware; spamming, for example. When it determines that the system meets its profile, it takes action.
The monitoring is entirely at the network level. No software is installed on any PC, nor are there any active probes of them. SMTP and HTTP are blocked; other services like POP3 and VOIP are unaffected. Attempts to send e-mail, legitimately or not, will fail. This is something like the "walled garden" idea of NAC implementations where the user is isolated from the rest of the network and expected to spend their time cleaning up the system.
Larry Seltzer argues that, as an ISP, Verizon has a bad reputation for abusive behavior left unchecked on their network. Click here to read more. The next time the user attempts to connect to the Web they are presented with a special page that warns of a possible "virus" on the computer. (Their use of the word virus on this page is technically off, but theyre trying to be colloquial and accessible, not strict-geek.) The page says that malicious traffic has been monitored coming from this computer or another on the same account; they cant know which computer behind your router is the dirty one. The page gives you three options: remove the virus now, remove it later, or assert that you have already removed it. In the first case, they enter a removal process, the details of which I dont have, but it could be something like Trend Micros HouseCall. In the second case you are allowed to connect even though your system is infected, but you will be given the same warning again soon, and after a few times you wont have the "later" option anymore. In the third case, I presume they let you back on the Internet and monitor you once again. In the second case, where they actually block out users who refuse to clean up their systems, weve got big news. Will they really shut off customers? Anecdotal evidence will come out of course, but we wont know how many times they really had to do this unless Qwest volunteers the numbers. And perhaps they figure they have a clean network. Thats certainly what Trend Micro seems to think. Its report of spam sorted by the ISP of the sending system doesnt even show Qwest in the first 100 entries. (Perhaps its under some other name, but "QWEST" and other associated names, like US West, arent there.) Lots of other big American ISPs, like Verizon (at number 2), Comcast, AT&T, and Road Runner, show up. Of course, if this is like healthy people getting their checkups, then the benefit to Internet "public health" is marginal at best. What we need is the really dirty ISPs, like Verizon, to step up. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers blog Cheap Hack More from Larry Seltzer
Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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