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:
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.
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. 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! 🙂