One more issue

Here’s the setting:

I have situated myself on the second floor of the Carnegie Mellon University Center, studying for my upcoming Stoichiometry Mastery Exam (zZzZz…).  I am hungry (seems to be a recurring theme), and I’m still trying to shake off the veritable BS that clogged my senses during the entirely-too-lengthy period of time I watched the Republican Convention last night; Sarah Palin’s speech was the best part, and considering I disagreed with almost everything she said, that isn’t saying much.

At any rate, as a computer scientist who is only a few weeks into embracing a biological perspective of computation, I have another consideration for the presidential candidates to consider, one which could very well undermine every single other issue they are addressing.  For whatever reason, this hasn’t become mainstream yet, even though it seems all but completely out of our control already:

Botnets.

While I was studying abroad in Barcelona the summer before last, I had the distinct honor of having Dr Merrick Furst as one of my professors.  For those of you who avidly read this blog you may recall my having mentioned him here before, but not only is he one of Georgia Tech’s most distinguished professors (indeed, he holds the title “Distinguished Professor”, is an associate dean of the College of Computing, and is on the board of every single scientific community ever created and that will ever be created), he is also one of the best instructors I have ever had.  He’s brilliant in his field, but he also knows how to speak and teach on the level of us common folk.

Over the summer, once we had finished the essentials of Algorithms, he began speaking to us about Quantum Theory.  This was, in a word, AWESOME.  He gave us a bit of a primer on the topic, and then moved on to more of what he does outside of Georgia Tech.

This guy’s resume could stretch from Atlanta all the way up here to Pittsburgh and still have room to spare, but needless to say a few years ago he was one of the founders of a company called Damballa, whose purpose (as far as he told us, anyway) was to monitor the activities of botnets and work with companies to devise countermeasures.

He was, like his company, very secretive regarding the details; more than once he said he couldn’t reveal how he came to possess the statistics he was giving us.

Needless to say, the danger from botnets is very real.  Botnets, in the most general context, refer to a group of computers (usually a very large group) that are remotely controlled and which perform various tasks that lend themselves to the use of a large pool of resources.  By itself, the term “botnet” has the connotation of a malicious virus-like program that infects and takes over computers as it spreads, adding its victims to the botnet collective.

This isn’t some garden variety virus.  In fact, once a new machine is added to a botnet, the virus responsible usually tries to keep the host machine clean of any further infections, so that the host will be a maximally reliable member of the botnet.

The tasks that these botnets can perform are incredible.  And scary.  They can send out massive amounts of spam email, perform click frauds (for example, falsely increasing an Ebay user’s number of satisfactory feedbacks), launch DDoS attacks, and generally wreak havoc on the Internet’s infrastructure (DNS attacks, router flooding, etc).  With so much bandwidth and processing power at the botnets’ disposals, there isn’t a whole lot a company can do if a botnet is unleashed upon its servers.

ISPs?  Online services?  Banks?  Not to mention these botnets can use their collective processing power to conduct brute-force attacks and generate valid credit card numbers, bank accounts, and so on.

For one final dose of reality, the top four botnets in existence collectively employ the resources of over 1 million computers and are responsible for 100 billion spam emails each day[1].

My question, then, is this: what are the presidential candidates’ plans for stemming this threat, one which could arguably aggravate our current issues further, to say nothing of compromising national security by providing organized crime (e.g. terrorism?) with a powerful mode of attack on our infrastructure?

Oh wait, I’m sorry, Washington is still stuck on the issue of net neutrality. AJSDFAL8OH@#@G*(#HQWI!!!

Obama is the only candidate I have heard say anything remotely related to technology and his policies therein, to say nothing of the fact that I didn’t hear Sarah Palin say anything remotely related to any issue.

Though I do give the McCain party props for running a “diff” on Obama’s website after a few months and pointing out the changes in his policies[2].  That was pretty clever.

I hate politics.  It always starts on such an optimistic note and inevitably becomes just more of the same: trying to decide between the lesser of two evils.

So in an attempt to lighten the mood, I’ll bring JibJab.com to the rescue.  Enjoy! 🙂

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About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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4 Responses to One more issue

  1. eksith says:

    HAAAH!
    That was an awesome video!

    The botnet issue will not fade away as many computer users are also computer illiterate. This can be mitigated somewhat by the introduction of secure software and hardware. Unfortunately MS has not made that easy and neither have many Linux noobs who also leave systems wide open.

    Obviously the vast majority of those infected systems are Windows machines. Which would explain why MS is secretly abandoning its architecture. It’s a very hush, hush, project taking place behind closed doors. I don’t care what they’re doing as long as they use their market saturation for good rather than just profit.
    [/wishful thinking]

    What’s needed is a completely ground up evaluation of computing infastructure. Or we can look forward to a world like Ghost in The Shell where uber hackers can dominate the computers in our brains… or computers that our brains are made of… Or whatever else the case may be then.

  2. halfsmile says:

    Gee, thanks. Now I’m gonna have nightmares of giant scary computers eating everything I hold dear.

    Cause, you know, scary computer viruses would totally look like that in dreamland. Or something.

    …*whistles*

  3. Actually the USG is spending lots of time, energy, and taxpayer dollars to combat botnets and other Internet security risks. In a classic example of double speak they call this Information Operations or InfoOps for short. Type Information Operations Roadmap into your friendly neighborhood search engine and you will find an eye opening pdf on the subject.

    And not to jump too deep in politics (I share your general sentiments) but all Sarah Barracuda did was answer all the questions the media was pounding her on for a week. She may or may not be a good VP but she sure can give one heck of a speech.

  4. magsol says:

    @eksith: Yeah, jibjab.com is pretty much one of the greatest satire websites. 🙂

    Botnets are only getting smarter, too. They’re not garden-variety viruses conjured up by script kiddies or vigilantes gone bad. This is organized crime, the best of the blackhats. Not only does the computer user base at large need to realize that a little more action on their part is required aside from “MS will handle it,” but companies such as MS and even linux vendors also need to do their parts, as you mentioned. I’m encouraged by MS’s actions regarding Singularity, but Windows 7 doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope.

    @halfsmile: In dreamland, computers look like giant mounds of limitless chocolate, just waiting to be eaten. 🙂 And viruses are the proverbial molds that must be done away with!

    @Lance: It’s an interesting read for sure, but I have to admit that my take on it was tarnished the moment I saw that former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had personally signed off on it. In reading it, along with subsequent articles analyzing it, I came away with the distinct impression that, given the chance, the government would rather monopolize and regulate the entire internet at large as its method of mitigating the risks associated with online activities. Furthermore, the vague language suggests – as with the infamous Patriot Act – that their ambitions for control do not lie only with the rest of the world, but domestically as well.

    (I am extremely cynical when it comes to the inner workings and true ambitions of the US government. And specifically, the more I read and here about Sarah Barracuda, the more I am inclined to cringe in horror at the prospect of her running the country.

    I do not mean to be antagonistic; I respect your perspective, whatever it may be, and I encourage you point out anything I may not be aware of.)

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