Windows worms tax ISPs

European ISPs hit for €123m in 2004

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Computer worms will cost European ISPs an estimated €123m this year, according to a study by Sandvine. The Net traffic management firm says its study shows attacks on European service providers are now a daily occurrence.

Although worms are usually associated with attacks on corporate networks, the malicious traffic also ties up service provider networks, degrading the broadband experience for home Internet users. Meanwhile, outbreaks of computer worms generate a huge upsurge in support calls to ISPs. On any given day, between five and 12 per cent of all Internet traffic moving across European ISP networks is malicious, according to Sandvine.

Counting the costs

Working from metrics derived from its European customers and other industry research, Sandvine reckons that worm attacks will cost the European service provider sector more than €123m in 2004 and €159m in 2005. The problem will cause UK ISPs €22.4m this year. French ISPs will haemorrhage €17.9m and German ISPs €22.7m for the same reason, according to Sandvine.

These estimates cover the cost of specialised tactical response teams, swamping of customer support resources, inflated transit costs and perhaps most damaging over the long term, a loss of brand equity that aggravates the industry-wide problem of customer churn. Estimating the financial cost of computer worms is a notoriously inexact science but Sandvine's argument - that broadband firms are suffering financially because of computer worms - remains sound.

"The quickening pace of worm attacks makes understanding their impact on service providers increasingly urgent," said Tom Donnelly, co-founder and marketing veep at Sandvine. "Worms exact a massive toll by forcing service providers to mobilise premium resources in order to quell attacks and protect the subscriber experience."

Sandvine researchers have also uncovered another type of expensive worm activity: persistent, low-level attack traffic caused by remnants of previous worms which cling-on tenanciously to residential subscriber PCs. Cumulatively, worms of both magnitudes are now an operational preoccupation for network managers and a worrisome drag on ISP profit margins, Sandvine says.

Windows security tax

Linux worms are not unknown (lion for example) but the vast majority of Worms exploit vulnerable Microsoft systems to spread: Code Red, Nimda, Blaster, Sasser - the list goes on. The pain experienced by telcos was a driving factor behind Microsoft's release of tool to purge systems infected by Blaster. Defending systems against Blaster-style attacks has created a new segment in the security market which host-based intrusion prevention firms (Cisco, PrevX, SecureWave), firewall vendors (Check Point etc.) and filtering firms (Scan Safe etc.) are all eager to tap into. There's a gradual realisation that the AV scanner approach by itself doesn't defend against Nimda-style attacks.

This month analyst firm Gartner advised its customers to budget for extra security spending on Windows desktops (like better patch management and intrusion prevention) in the wake of the problems caused by the Sasser worm. So computer worms have become an extra tax burden on both end users and ISPs. Unless Microsoft lifts this burden through addressing the root causes - vulnerabilities in Windows - it risks making alternatives look increasingly attractive. ®

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Sasser ups cost of Windows - Gartner
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Blaster beats up British business
Blaster rewrites Windows worm rules

Related links

Worms gobbling ISP profits: The financial impact of attack traffic on European service provider networks, Sandvine white paper.

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