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More on Broadband Router Insecurity and Being Proactive

Fergie replied on NANOG to my recent post on the subject of broadband routers insecurity:

“I’ll even go a step further, and say that if ISPs keep punting on the whole botnet issue, and continue to think of themselves as ‘common carriers’ in some sense—and continue to disengage on the issue—then you may eventually forced to address those issues at some point in the not-so-distant future.

I understand the financial disincentives, etc., but if the problem continues to grow and fester, and consumer (and financial institutions) losses grow larger, things may take a really ugly turn.”

He is right, but I have a comment I felt it was important—to me—to make. Not just on this particular vulnerability, but on the “war”.

I must admit, vulnerabilities are endless and new exploitation vectors will never end, even if it was possible and we were all 100% secure, someone (an attacker rather than a vulnerability) will find a way to make it 99% again for the right investment or with the right moment of brilliance.

Enough with cheap philosophy though… as tired (even exhausted) as I am of the endless repeating circle which security is, on all levels (from the people involved through the interests involved all the way to the same-old-FUD) I still haven’t burned out, and I am still here.

The world isn’t going to end tomorrow, and even if the Internet was to die (which I doubt it will), we will survive. However, in the recent couple of years a new community has been forming which we started referring to as “Internet security operations”. These folks, for various motives, work to make the Internet stay up and become safer (actually being safe is a long lost battle we should have never fought the way things were built).

With such a community being around, treating issues beyond our little corner of the ‘net is possible to a level, and at least some progress is made. Some anti-virus engineers no longer care only about samples, some network engineers no longer care only about their networks, etc.

Is any of this a solution? No. The problems themselves will not go away, they aren’t in any significant fashion currently being dealt with beyond the tactical level of a fire brigade.

Is it the end than? Of course not. But operations vs. research are determined by intelligence. As we have some intelligence, I can point to yet another annoying vulnerability in the endless circle which those of us who will want to, can study, and if they feel it is justified, defend against. That is the broadband routers issue, which personally I’d really rather avoid.

Unfortunately, this limited defense is what most of us can do at our own homes, or tops as a volunteer fire brigade or neighborhood watch.

The Internet is the most disconnected global village I can imagine, but we all have the funny uncle on another network and a weird one on yet another. I sometimes feel that the old analogy of the Internet to the Wild West is not quite it. Perhaps we are living in the Wild West, only if instead of wastelands and small towns, we have New York city and the laws of a feudal dark ages Kingdom.

Things will eventually change, and some of us will stick around to help that change (or try to). For now though, it is about one vulnerability ignored at a time, and working on our communities.

By Gadi Evron, Security Strategist

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