The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is analyzing methods of tackling the botnet problem and is considering creating an opt-in code of conduct that would encourage ISPs to help customers clean malware infections.
Botnets are armies of infected computers, controlled by criminals to perform illegal activities that earn them money in various ways.
The FCC is currently working on drafting a "Cybersecurity Roadmap," a plan to pinpoint weaknesses in the country's Internet infrastructure and to identify threats to home, corporate and government networks.
"Along those lines would be something like an ISP ‘code of conduct’ and best practice-oriented approach that ISPs could opt-in to or not, basically a standard of behavior for ISPs to follow when they find that a user of theirs has been infected," Jeffery Goldthorp, associate bureau chief of the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, told Brian Krebs.
"The goal of that would be to clean up the consumer and residential networks. We’re also very interested in trying to figure out if there are rules we have on our books that stand in the way of ISPs being more proactive and creating a safer environment for consumers online," he added.
This is very good news, as security experts have long argued that ISPs are uniquely positioned to identify malicious activity on their networks and counter the problem at the consumer level.
Similar government-supported initiatives already exist in other countries. The Australian Internet Industry Association (IIA) has already drafted an "eSecurity Code" to which Internet service providers can adhere voluntarily.
The code contains guidelines for ISPs to identify compromised computers and educate their customers about threats, and proposes penalties for repeated misconduct.
These include speed throttling, temporary account suspension, temporary port/protocol blocking, restriction of SMTP traffic and even cutting off Internet access completely as an ultimate measure for customers who refuse to address the problems.
Germany has already launched a program of its own called the Anti-Botnet Initiative, which is the result of collaboration between the German Internet Industry Association (eco), the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and several security vendors.
The program involved setting up a national Anti-Botnet Counseling Center and a free hotline where specially trained technical support engineers are available around the clock to assist users with cleaning their computers.
Comcast, the largest US ISP, has already started deploying a botnet notification system nationwide. Although it might not have chosen the best approach implementation-wise, the overall idea is commendable.