Microsoft: ISPs should quarantine infected PCs

Scott Charney

Microsoft security chief suggests infected PCs should be cut off the internet until they're clean

Microsoft has suggested that ISPs should quarantine and clean-up infected PCs before they're allowed back on to the internet.

Scott Charney, Microsoft's corporate vice president of trustworthy computing, said quarantining systems was the only effective way of dealing with the threat of botnets on consumer PCs.

"With medical diseases we basically educate people, and sometimes if you've flown to certain countries they'll scan you for your temperature as you get off the plane," said Charney, speaking at the RSA security conference. "If you seem to be infected, you're quarantined and you're treated."

The attacks are happening at light speed; we have to respond at light speed. So, we should think about inspection and quarantine

"The question is, why don't we do this for consumers? Why don't we think about access providers who are doing inspection and quarantine, and cleaning machines prior to access to the internet?"

Charney cited the case of his young son and 80-year-old mother, who both blithely click "OK" on warning message pop-ups because they either can't read (in the case of his son) or don't understand the warning.

"The reason governments and enterprises can manage the botnet risk is because they have professional IT staff; this is their job, they manage this risk," he said. "It is much more complicated in the consumer space."

"The attacks are happening at light speed; we have to respond at light speed. So, we should think about inspection and quarantine."

Smoking gun

Charney likened the problem of infected PCs with that of secondary smoking. "People used to smoke, and we said, look, you're going to kill yourself, but if you want to die, go ahead. You're causing cost to the health care system; we'll eat those costs, go ahead and kill yourself," he said.

"Then, of course, the EPA [US Environmental Protection Agency] comes out with secondhand smoke. Suddenly, smoking is banned everywhere. You have a right to infect and give yourself illness, you don't have the right to infect your neighbour."

"Well, the computers are the same way," Charney added. "We've told people run antivirus, patch, backup your data. But if you don't do that stuff and you lose all your stuff, that's a risk you can accept. But today you're not just accepting it for yourself, you're contaminating everyone around you, right?"

Charney suggests internet users would have to pay a tax to fund the scheme. "We pay a fee to put phone service in rural areas, we pay a tax on our airline ticket for security. You could say it's a public safety issue and do it with general taxation," he claimed.

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