Homeland Security Has A Plan To Fight Zombie Devices

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The report urges more public-private cooperation on botnet takedowns and more and better cyber standards.

A Homeland Security Department advisory group, on Thursday, approved a key set of recommendations for the Trump administration’s emerging battle plan to fight botnets.

The government should launch more public-private partnerships to take down the armies of zombie computers that digital miscreants use to attack websites and should redouble engagement with other nations on anti-botnet efforts, the report from the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee urges.

Government should also put more effort into promoting cybersecurity standards and best practices that prevent computers from being hijacked into botnets and should harmonize cyber standards across, federal, state and local governments, the report states.

The government’s cyber standards agency should boost its efforts to create cybersecurity standards for the burgeoning field of internet-connected devices, such as smart refrigerators, cars and cameras, the report states.

Those internet-of-things devices have proven fertile ground for botnet operators because many include software that is difficult to patch or update or is secured with default passwords. The 2016 Dyn botnet attack, which briefly knocked prominent websites including Netflix offline, was partly powered by internet-of-things devices.

The report endorses the idea of launching some sort of “cybersecurity moonshot,” meaning an inspiring and difficult goal that requires concerted action but doesn’t specify what that moonshot should be.

White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert has greeted the cyber moonshot idea with skepticism, calling the Cold War-era space race an ill-fitting model for contemporary cybersecurity.

Unlike the U.S.-Soviet race to the moon, Bossert noted during a recent cybersecurity event, cybersecurity doesn’t have a single, inspiring end goal. An ideal cybersecurity resting state would also involve only a substantial reduction of cyber risk, not its elimination.

Thursday’s Homeland Security advisory report is one of three information streams that will inform a botnet resilience effort led by the Homeland Security and Commerce departments and called for in President Donald Trump’s May cybersecurity executive order.

The other information streams are coming from two Commerce Department agencies, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Those streams will be combined into a single, final report, which will be released for public comment in early 2018, a Commerce official said during a recent advisory board meeting. That report will be finalized and delivered to the president before the executive order’s one-year anniversary in May.