Australia taps ISPs to fight 'zombies'

Australia's Internet Industry Code is aimed at reducing threats posed by computers that have been hijacked to act as zombies and participate in botnet attacks.

A new voluntary code of conduct for Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that’s designed to mitigate cyber threats is getting attention Down Under and in Washington, prompting discussion about how ISPs can help bolster cybersecurity.

The Internet Industry Code of Practice is designed to be a consistent way for Australian ISPs to inform, educate and protect their users from cybersecurity risks, according to the document. The code was drawn up by the Australian Internet Industry Association (IIA) in conjunction with Australia's Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Department and the Attorney General’s Department.

A primary focus of the icode is to reduce threats posed by computers that have been hijacked to act as zombies and participate in botnet attacks.

The code includes a notification system for compromised computers, a standardized information resource for users, a way for ISPs to access the latest threat information, and a reporting mechanism for ISPs to let Australian computer emergency readiness team know about extreme threats. ISPs that comply with the code, which goes into effect this December 1, can display a “trustmark” that shows customers they adhere to the code.

“It’s a multipronged approach we’re taking,” said Peter Coroneos, chief executive of the Australian IIA. “It’s very much focused on user empowerment, but it also empowers ISPs, it gives them some alternative measures to consider by way of escalation, if there is an attack of any kind or compromises occurring on networks, they’ve got a number of options.”

Coroneos added that “the headline isn’t Australian ISP’s to cut users off.” Rather, he said, in extreme cases an ISP might contain or constrain users into a "walled garden" where they would lack general access to the Internet, but they would have access to tools and information so their computers could be fixed and back online as quickly as possible.


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Coroneos said the Australian government featured the code during its recent national cybersecurity awareness week and showcased it through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization, of which the United States is a part.

During a recent visit to Washington, Coroneos said he discussed the code with White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt. Coroneos said he thinks Schmidt really liked the code idea and said it is a very interesting model for the United States.

However, Dave McClure, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Internet Industry Association, said that although ISPs in this country commend their Australian counterparts for their efforts, a similar voluntary code may not be easy to put in place in the United States. McClure cited differences in how the U.S. and Australian governments interact with industry.

“Certainly we commend what the Australians do, for their culture and their form of government, it’s a very elegant response to a difficult situation,” McClure said.

However the U.S. model is very different, he said. “We can’t really respond to anything until it looks like there is a proposal set forth for regulation, or for a new law, or frankly for a presidential directive,” McClure added.

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