How Can You Heal the Internet?

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ARE YOU FRIGHTENED OF VIRUSES!!!!!!!!!


What do you think happens when you connect your computer to the Internet? In less than an hour, it may not be yours anymore. While you’re Goggling your name and checking e-mail, a hacker, perhaps in Eastern Europe-let’s call him Paji-quietly takes over your machine. There are a dozen ways Paji could do it, but he probably found you with a program he didn’t get at Best Buy called a port scanner, which roams the Internet like a clumsy cat burglar, trying every doorknob until it locates one left unlocked Web sites hostage (not to mention slow down your PC).

Then he makes a connection to your computer-sort of like starting a chat session, only invisible to you-and uses it to deliver a “backdoor,” a small piece of code that lets him take control of your PC whenever he wants. You won’t know it, but you’ve just become part of a “botnet”, a small army of computers that Paji will rent to international organized-crime rings, which will use it to spew spam, steal identities, or hold corporate Sound like a scare story? It happens to more than 300,000 computers each day-PC connected to the Internet without security precautions such as a firewall, anti-virus software or an up-to-date operating system. According to the FBI, $67.2 billion was lost last year to online crime.

Sure, there are ways to fight back you, shutting down “zombies” (PCs surreptitiously controlled by hackers) and prosecuting the handful of Pajis the police have managed to catch. But it’s like playing a huge game of whack-a-mole. Knock the criminals over the head in one spot, and they pop up someplace else. “No matter what solution you come up with, it takes the bad guys about five minutes to get around it,” says Lance Spitzner, president of the nonprofit volunteer Honeynet Project. “The creativity of cyber-criminals is amazing.”

Fact is, the system is easy to game because it was never designed to be secure. The Internet was created 40 years ago so university geeks could share research, not so you could buy baubles on eBay. As companies developed ingenious ways to build security into things like online credit-card transactions, hackers came up with equally ingenious ways to get around it, launching a security arms race that Paji and his comrades are so far winning.

We want to fight back, we need a new approach, something that fundamentally changes the way computers interact with the Internet and how the Internet functions.   Companies and organizations all over the world are working on these kinds of long-term solutions, but one of the most radical ideas is being developed at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab, the world’s largest Internet-security research hub. Launched in 2003, CyLab has 70 faculty researchers and 140 graduate students at its Pittsburgh campus, with satellite facilities in Korea and Japan. Its approach is to make the Internet function like a biological entity that wards off attacks the way a healthy body fights off a cold-in other words, to build a network with an immune system. But the following remedies-creating resistance to attacks and finding their sources-are necessary medicine for an Internet that’s getting sicker by the minute.


How Can You Heal the Internet?


Remedy 1

Create Diversity on Your Desktop

Make software and operating systems that evolve when attacked, so the same trick doesn’t work on so many computers.

In June 2004, Internet-security researchers discovered vulnerability in Internet Explorer 6 that could let attackers take over your computer when you visited an infected Web site. The attack exploited a flaw in how IE 6 managed security, fooling the browser into thinking that malicious code was running in a so-called “trusted zone” on your local machine instead of on the Internet. Once a machine was infected, the attackers could do anything they pleased-erase files, install a key-logger to steal bank-account information, or turn the computer into a zombie.

The problem was so bad that the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, advised Web surfers to stop using IE until Microsoft issued a patch, which it did in August of that year.  Because every single copy of IE6 contained the same flaw, the attackers had tens of millions of potential targets.

The problem with software is that every version has the same damned bugs. If some copies of Explorer “evolved” to resist the attack, hackers would soon give up and go looking for easier targets. Taking the idea one step further, CyLab imagines creating programs or entire operating systems that would randomly change the way they functioned as they operated or that would execute instructions in a different order every time.

CyLab’s technical director, Mike Reiter, who says

“Why do we have epidemics?”  “Not because there are germs out there. It’s because we can’t control their propagation. You can’t stop the dissemination of viruses and worms, but you can reduce their speed of propagation.”



Boost Data Immune Systems

            Protect corporate databases so they can’t be stolen from, and the networks around them so they can’t be brought down for ransom.

Eran Reshef thought he’d figured out a clever way to combat spam. The CEO of Israeli company Blue Security created a method of flooding junk e-mailers and their clients with opt-out requests-essentially, spamming the spammers. Within a few months, Reshef claimed, six of the world’s biggest junk e-mailers had agreed to stop spamming his customers.

Then, this past May, a Russian spammer known as PharmaMaster fought back. Using a botnet, he launched what’s called a distributed denial of service, or DDOS, attack. If too many computers try to access a Web site at the same time, it overwhelms the servers that host the site and shuts it down. DDOS attacks do this relentlessly, keeping a company’s site offline until it agrees to pay a ransom. And PharmaMaster didn’t stop there.

He took down Blue Security’s blog service, its Internet service provider, and the security firm it hired to repel the original attack. Then he sent Blue Security’s customers e-mails infected with a virus. After two weeks of relentless attacks, Blue Security just gave up. At press time, was still offline. Nobody knows how many of these attacks occur every year, because few companies admit to being attacked for fear of revealing their weaknesses.

CyLab isn’t even working on them yet. But if they can’t yet protect a network from being attacked, they can at least protect the large databases of information-say, a bank’s customer records-behind those networks. A version of these so-called survivable data-storage systems is in place at CyLab today.


Remedy 3

Find the Source of Infections

Fix the backbone of the Internet so criminals can’t hide their tracks

Diagnosing anthrax or another infectious disease is easy; the hard part is finding where it came from. Today’s Internet has a similar problem: Malware is easy to spot, but its origin is often a mystery. Information travels around the Internet in data packets, each one with an Internet Protocol (IP) address, a 12-digit number that indicates from which machine it originated. Unfortunately, it’s easy to “spoof,” or fake, the IP address to hide the data’s actual source. (There are even legal tools you can use to hide your computer’s IP address so that you can surf the Web anonymously.)

CyLab’s Fast Internet Traceback (FIT) technology can follow each packet as it moves across the Internet, “like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs,” says Adrian Perrig, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. With FIT, each packet would get a small marker added to it as it passed through a router, a machine that directs and relays Internet traffic. These markers would allow computer-forensics experts to identify the routers through which a packet had passed, ultimate tracing it back to the computer that originally sent the data-whether it belonged to Paji, a botnet or a teenager just causing trouble-and choke it off.

But for FIT to work, Perrig estimates, at least a third of the Internet’s roughly 100,000 routers must be upgraded, a process that would take many years and cost billions of dollars. Even then, tracing packets would get you only so far, says Bruce Schneier, founder of California-based consultancy Counterpane Internet Security.

“It’s easy to prove that your computer did something, but it’s hard to get from your computer to you,” he explains. That is, the chain of evidence breaks once you try to prove that it was Paji’s fingers on the keyboard. You need some way to absolutely verify his identity, such as authentication and biometrics. But this, in turn, raises serious privacy concerns.

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Sourabh Bhunje

Sourabh Bhunje, B.E. IT from Pune University. Currently Working at Techliebe. Professional Skills: Programming - Software & Mobile, Web & Graphic Design, Localization, Content Writing, Sub-Titling etc.

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