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Forum warns of hidden DDoS legal liability

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ATLANTA - Corporations and ISPs could be held liable for unwittingly allowing computers on their networks to become pawns, or "zombie" machines, in distributed denial-of-service attacks that harm customers or other companies.

That was one message last week from an industry consortium set up to fight the distributed denial-of-service threat. The consortium, dubbed the RFC 2267-plus Working Group, unveiled itself at NetWorld+ Interop 2000 (See story).

"It might not be enough to say they were not aware they could become a zombie," says Frank Huerta, CEO of Recourse Technologies, one consortium member. The group gets its name from RFC 2267, the Internet router filtering standard that could be used to help thwart distributed denial-of-service attempts.

If the group develops a body of accepted safe practices, corporate IS executives will have to comply or risk liability if their computers are commandeered to carry out distributed denial-of-service attacks, consortium members warn.

Risking liability

"Court cases will say, 'You had a reasonable expectation and maybe you should have been looking for it,'" Huerta says.

Consortium members say while the group is trying to enlist help from Internet equipment vendors, service providers and law enforcement departments, it also needs help from firms linked to the Internet.

Henry Teng, the moderator of RFC2267-plus and a KPMG consultant, says the group is promoting the sharing of information about distributed denial-of-service attacks to help companies develop better strategies to limit distributed denial-of-service impact and reduce the chance such attacks will be launched in the first place.

Representatives from Yahoo and eBay, two Web businesses hit earlier this year by one of the largest distributed denial-of-service attacks, say cooperation is essential, even if it means sharing information about networks with competitors.

"A collaborative approach will make for us, as users and companies, an Internet that is more reliable, faster and safer," says John Zent, manager of risk management for Yahoo.

"This is an industry problem," says Allen Yousefi, information security officer at eBay. "It's not just a problem for eBay or Yahoo or We're big names, so we get the attention."

While the RFC2267-plus Working Group is pushing for cooperation, it has no unified set of answers to distributed denial-of-service attacks yet. However, Allen Wilson, who represented Internet Security Services at the group's launch, suggests some practical measures companies can take to avoid distributed denial-of-service attacks and being used as a launch pad for such attacks:

Establish a response team that maps out your reaction to attacks.

Audit security of machines in the demilitarized zone between your firewalls.

Mitigate risks by installing known security software patches and installing an intrusion-detection system.

Constantly review security; it's a process, not a one-time project.

ISPs are also worried about liability if their networks fail to detect distributed denial-of-service traffic and head off the flood before it levels its victim, says Tom Clare, a senior product manager for Check Point Software. That concern could lead to changes in service-level agreements ISPs are willing to back, he adds.


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