White House to Fight Back Against Botnets

May 31, 2012 Updated: June 17, 2012

The White House said Wednesday it would take measures to dismantle botnets, which are networks of computers that have been taken over by hackers and are used to spread malware or spam, steal information, or attack websites.

U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, and technology industry groups are joining forces to deal with the menace, calling the effort the “Industry Botnet Group” (IBG). Botnets are often used by the hacker group Anonymous and others to launch large attacks on websites by flooding them with unwanted traffic.

“The issue of botnets is larger than any one industry or country. This is why partnership is so important,” White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt said in a statement.

“The principles the IBG are announcing today draw on expertise from the widest range of players, with leadership coming from across the private sector, and partnering with the government on items like education, consumer privacy, and key safeguards in law enforcement,” said Schmidt.

A new voluntary set of principles was created by an industry group to detect and prevent the proliferation of botnets. The botnet creators oftentimes spread the malware by concealing it through email attachments, which infect the computer when the user opens them.

Security firm McAfee stated in its “Threats Report” in March 2012, that approximately 4.5 million computers around the world are part of a botnet. They stated that the number had grown sharply upward from the previous year.

Industry estimates suggest that 1 in 10 computers in the United States are currently infected with a botnet.

“Botnets continue to increase the price of doing business online and place our companies at a competitive disadvantage, while threatening our individual privacy,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology Patrick Gallagher in a statement, adding that initiatives will have to be taken to stop botnets.

One of the government’s plans is to educate the public through the “Keep a Clean Machine” campaign to prevent consumers from having their computers taken over by hackers via botnets.

Michael DeCesare, the CEO of McAfee, spoke at an event at the White House about the partnership and said the sharing of information to deal with botnets is a necessity, according to The Hill.

However, DeCesare cautioned the Obama administration and legislators that, with “overregulation, we run the risk of creating a compliance cyber ecosystem, not necessarily a more secure one,” he was quoted as saying by The Hill.

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