Brian Krebs posted a follow up article on the takedown of fraudulent hosting provider McColo (facilitated by his initial reporting last week). If you think all the nasties out there are hosted in Russia or China, you should really read his article.
McColo’s servers weren’t sending out the actual spam; they functioned as the command and control infrastructure for some of the world’s biggest botnets. For those of you who don’t know, spam is rarely sent from static servers anymore; it originates from botnets scattered around the world that are directed by their control network to issue once in a lifetime offers for the best possible deals on male enhancement products. (It’s nice to know everyone has small weewees and lasts about 8 seconds, since otherwise this stuff wouldn’t be so profitable). Since the spam originates from tens of thousands of different systems, it makes it nearly impossible to blacklist based just on IP address.
McColo hosted major components of the command infrastructure for spewing out your totally legitimate university diplomas (for a small fee). All those little bots are still out there, but no one is telling them what to do. As Krebs reports, it’s only a matter of time before the network owners reassert control and we can get back to purchasing discount medications and finding true love in former Soviet countries.
But what if we took control ourselves and locked out the network? Those servers are still sitting in some building in California, and the ISPs still control the IP addresses. Imagine what we could do if we sent in a research team (or law enforcement) to commandeer all those bots and lock the bad guys out.
Yes folks, this is just fantasy today. We don’t have the legal framework to execute such a project without creating risk for the good guys involved. Sure, we could use the botnet to patch all the compromised systems, but that’s effectively breaking into someone’s computer and making changes.
I dream of a day when we can more effectively take the fight to the bad guys without worrying about going to jail ourselves. There’s absolutely no chance we can continue this fight indefinitely if we’re always on the defense. But we’re a long way off from having the legal framework and institutions to effectively stand up for ourselves.