I Have a Security

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-08-12 Print this article Print


It was year 2000 when I wrote, way, way too early, that ISPs were the future for security for consumers. But I had a different idea of how ISPs would provide security: I saw it entirely as network-based feature. Almost all malware these days comes through the Internet to the user, so it seemed to me that the ISP should be scanning all channels of communication (in effect, all TCP ports) going to or coming from the user.
All users would be protected, not just those who have the security software running on their computers.
Its ambitious in terms of the computing power it would require, but its easy to assert that such computing power will be readily available in the future.

Here we are in 2005, and my prediction is still Buck Rogers stuff. Oh, there are some ISPs who do host-based scanning of mail for malware and spam, but thats less than half the problem. If ISPs had a network firewall of sorts for their users, they could stop the next Sasser or Blaster from affecting their networks. Click here to read more from columnist Jim Rapoza about ISP security. Isnt that an appealing idea? Its going to happen in the future. I hope I live long enough to see it.

In the meantime, these new solutions are based on the distribution of traditional client-based security software, and thats good enough. Well, basically it is. There are interim measures that can improve the situation, and these you might see developing in the next few years.

CA allows the ISP to customize the software both aesthetically and with policies; so for instance, the software could be set to block, by default, all outbound connections on port 25 (SMTP)other than those to the ISPs mail server. If this is a problem for some users, they can change the policy. The ISP cant go so far as to manage the client systems software by changing policies remotely, except perhaps by pushing updates to the user. This is the sort of capability one finds in corporate versions of client-based security software, and is removed from consumer versions partly because there is nobody managing the system and partly to protect the higher price of the corporate edition.

It might also be useful for the ISP to check whether the client systems software is running and current. After all, new threats often try to disable security software. One way ISPs could do this is by implementing a dream I have: network access control for ISP networks. (Yes, I know, I have strange dreams.) This is a system implemented by a variety of companies (Sygate, for example) for setting configuration requirements for a system before it is allowed on the network. These can include security requirements such as running anti-virus with current definitions.

Network access control is great stuff, but its only a corporate feature now. I think that eventually one could imagine ISPs offering a special "locked-down" area with access control and other network controls and sell it as a "super secure" ISP area. It would probably have to be more expensive because it would need more hand-holding, but some users would see value in it.

Its good to see ISPs trying to be part of the solution to our security problems. There are still others, unmentioned in this article, who are most definitely part of the problem. They still dont care what happens on their users computers and the effect it has on the network and Internet beyond. I can see them getting displaced in the market by ISPs that do care. At least I can dream about it.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at larryseltzer@ziffdavis.com. 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 Weblog.

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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