October 07, 2010, 11:40 AM — Microsoft's security chief Wednesday pitched a plan that would block some botnet-infected computers from connecting to the Internet.
A noted botnet researcher said the proposal didn't attack the problem at its root, and like many technical solutions, was unlikely to do much good.
In a paper published Wednesday, Scott Charney, who heads Microsoft's trustworthy computing group, spelled out a concept of "collective defense" that he said was modeled after public health measures like vaccinations and quarantines.
Under Charney's proposal, PCs would be issued a "health certificate" that showed whether the system was fully patched, that it was running security software and a firewall, and that it was malware-free. Machines with deficiencies would require patching or an antivirus update, while bot-infected PCs might be barred from the Internet.
Quarantining PCs could be a last-step measure, Charney said, to keep compromised PCs from threatening others on the Web.
"Just as when an individual who is not vaccinated puts others' health at risk, computers that are not protected or have been compromised with a bot put others at risk and pose a greater threat to society," Charney argued in a post to a company blog . "We need to improve and maintain the health of consumer devices connected to the Internet in order to avoid greater societal risk."
Charney admitted that his proposal would face resistance, such as privacy concerns, over what the health certificate would reveal and whether it would be tied to a specific individual. Even so, he made suggestions likely to raise a ruckus.
"There may be value in uniquely identifying devices, as when a device may be infected on a home network," he wrote in his paper, Collective Defense: Applying Public Health Models to the Internet ( download PDF ). "It may also be possible, of course, to combine device information with other information to identify a user (much like cell phones may have unique identifiers and can be tied to particular account holders)."
Charney also said that government intervention would be necessary, another issues the notoriously anti-regulation Internet community may balk at. "Voluntary behavior and market forces are the preferred means to drive action but if those means fail, then governments should ensure these concepts are advanced," he said.