• United States

Salute the defenders of profit

Jul 21, 20034 mins
BotnetsData Center

Atten-shun! General Gibbs here. Right chaps, we’re going back into battle shortly, but first a few words about the war.

We know what our job is: We’re defending our networks from virus writers, hackers, dishonest employees, flaky equipment and bug-ridden software – an enemy army of such size that just a few years ago it would have been hard to imagine.

And it is getting worse. Things that we never thought would be a threat are being turned against us. This spam battle has escalated from a low-level nuisance to a strategic confrontation. The bad guys are rolling out new tactics pretty much every day while we rearrange our defenses – the anti-spam filters – because without a real push to shore up the messaging beachhead the signal-to-noise ratio will plummet until e-mail becomes useless.

But that, men, is not even scratching the surface, because an increasingly significant threat is coming from a largely unexpected source: what the good guys can do to you.

E-commerce has an interesting tendency to change the way business is done, making, for example, constant monitoring of another organization’s Web site data highly desirable. Great for the outfit doing the monitoring but lousy for the monitoree, particularly when many companies are monitoring them simultaneously. The constant access can create a phenomenal drain on resources.

A great example is the “bot” problem that plagues big search engines. For many organizations search engines are key components of their online marketing strategies – the reason being that if they appear in the search results for a specific term that relates to their products then the chances of someone spending money is vastly improved.

What these organizations care about is not just being on the results list but being first or as close to first as possible. Not high enough? Then they tweak their metatags and keywords and try to get lots of other sites to link to them. Then they go back to the search engines ater to check their rank.

The problem is it’s labor-intensive to check all the search engines repeatedly, so companies started to build “bots” – robots that search on their behalf.

As a result, the search engines experienced scores, then hundreds, of bots accessing them as everyone started to play the game. The search engines consequently started blocking the IP addresses of bots.

As a result the bots were re-engineered to behave more human-like so that the search engine people had to start getting really clever with their detection systems so the bots, then . . . well, you get the idea.

Unlike in the real world, skirmishes that involve network access and resources are to all intents and purposes capable of endless escalation. The only constraints are the intervention of network administrators, the size of the data pipes, the speed of the routers and the power of the processors. Unfortunately, all those factors except your effort grow according to Moore’s Law. Thus we are condemned to endless conflict.

Given that our battles are predicated upon the complexity, power and richness of our networks, can we aim for simplicity to help solve the problem? Probably not. Our networks are the way they are for a reason – to solve business problems, and most business problems are hard to strip down.

But there is a simple answer: We need more IT people – an army of them. Businesses that intend to be competitive can’t operate with the tiny IT groups most of them have, because the IT guys are all that stand between profitable information-driven businesses and money-hemorrhaging chaos.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the IT brigade, start telling your company which way things are headed and what it will mean. Start building the case to make IT the defenders of profit.

That’s it chaps, we’ve got a war to fight. Get ready . . . charge!

Battle plans to


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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