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Can "good" botnets fight bad botnets?

Is a battle of the botnets security brilliance or destined to backfire? Information security threats expert John Strand gives advice.

How does the method of fighting "bad" botnets with "good" botnets work? How effective is this as an enterprise defense method?

Security researchers generally view these as a bad idea, although there has been some exciting research from the University of Washington centered on a project called Phalanx (pdf). The idea is that any server requests would have to be processed through the "good" botnet, which is geographically dispersed. Because a large number of servers are implemented as intermediaries, it becomes difficult to overwhelm one specific network link.

Still, as I stated earlier, I believe that this is a bad idea, for two reasons. First, think about how hard it is to secure existing systems. Now, expand that by a few thousand systems directly accessible from the Internet. This scenario leads directly to my second fear: control. Imagine the public relations nightmare should your good botnet be taken over and used to DoS someone else's network.

I propose that instead of building counter-botnets, security professionals could better spend their time tracking the patch-installation success rate for the systems they currently have. Leave the bot-herding to the bad guys.

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This was last published in July 2008

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