Pitting Friendly Botnets vs. Malevolent Botnets

04 May

In a recent article in New Scientist Tech, the authors have detailed an interesting new development in the fight against evil botnets and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.  They explain that researchers at University of Washington have harnessed their own network to shield a critical, protected server.

The way these researchers have accomplished this incredible feat is by redirecting information through a series of “mailbox” computers.  These “mailbox” computers are made up of all of the existing computers on the extensive network.  Instead of these mailbox computers acting as a funnel for access to the secure server (like you would expect), they only allow information to pass to the server if the server requests it.  This keeps the server from becoming overloaded with requests.

Malicious botnets leverage thousands and sometimes millions of turned computers against a network.  Each of these turncoat computers bombards a specific server at the same time, flooding the server with requests rendering it useless.  This act is known as a DDoS attack that is the common weapon of a botnet.

Phalanx- the name given to the network of mailbox computers- can keep a server safe from even the most stalwart attacks.  Researchers have claimed that Phalanx can even protect against multi-million entity botnets with minimal data loss.  In addition to the previously mentioned tactic, Phalanx mandates that computers attempting to access the server solve a computational puzzle.  This is not hard for a real-live computer user, but this tactic proves to be a huge hurdle for the huge botnets.

In regards to actual testing of Phalanx and related security measures, the team of researchers pitted 7,200 mailbox computers against a simulated million computer botnet.  The end result was the server functioning normally even while a large percentage of the mailboxes being bombarded heavily.  They stressed that Phalanx is very scalable and they note that additional friendly computers can be recruited to deal with varying sizes of botnets.

The Washington researchers discuss using home computers to join in the effort against malicious botnets.  Using technology similar to popular filesharing program Bittorrent, they hope to link computers together using Phalanx technology.  They note that, “converting BitTorrent users into a community-based botnet defense sounds interesting and promising.”

You can find the entire report here.  Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 4, 2008 in Emerging Technology, Security


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One response to “Pitting Friendly Botnets vs. Malevolent Botnets

  1. russwbeck

    May 5, 2008 at 12:20 am

    This is a really cool post. I have never heard of this type of network before. I wonder how realistic it is to use Phalanx on a larger scale to really help deter BotNets. As with everything new, it may seem a daunting task now, but maybe this is the future for major corporations like Microsoft or CNN in protecting themselves from these large scale DDoS attacks that are becoming ever more prevalent. The fact that 7200 mailbox computers can function properly while being attacked by a million computer BotNet is very impressive. It looks like those Washington researchers may have found something here.


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