P-cube goes hunting for zombie PCs

Night of the living spam

P-Cube, the traffic management firm Cisco agreed to buy for $200m last month, is aiming to tackle the problem of spam at source by detecting and quarantining spam zombie machines.

P-Cube's IP service control platform allows service providers to identify subscribers, classify applications and offer differentiated service performance. The technology makes it easier for telcos to control and manage advanced IP services such as voice-over-IP, interactive gaming, video-on-demand, or P2P traffic. P-Cube has tweaked this technology to help fight one of the principal causes of spam.

A new version of the Engage service application (Engage v2.1) of P-Cube’s Service Control Platform released this week provides ISPs with a tool for network-based detection and protection from spam zombie attacks.

Worms such as MyDoom and Bagle (and Trojans such as Phatbot) surrender the control of infected PCs to hackers. These expanding networks of compromised zombie machines (dubbed 'botnets' by the computer underground) can be used for spam distribution or as platforms for DDoS attacks. By using compromised machines - instead of open mail relays or unscrupulous hosts - spammers can bypass IP address blacklists.

A great deal of spam (between 40 to 80 per cent depending who you ask) originates from spam zombies. The large number of attacking machines makes it difficult to identify the source of a spam zombie-based attack or to take corrective action in real time without causing massive disruption to network operations and legitimate users. P-Cube claims to have licked this problem with technology that is both application and subscriber-aware. This approach allows service provider to identify spam zombie activity from a particular subscriber, block their email transmissions and redirect the infected subscriber to a site where the system can be purged of the zombie infection. Engage can perform these functions without introducing latency into the network, P-Cube claims.

The approach is similar to the detect, isolate and cleanse approach Cisco has taken with its Network Admission Control program. The scheme involves a combination of technology from Cisco and AV vendors to combat the spread of computer worms across corporate networks.

P-Cube's service platform competes with products from companies such as Ellacoya Networks and Sandvine. As the market evolves its likely that traffic management technology will be increasingly brought into play alongside conventional anti-spam filtering in combating the zombie menace. ®

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