Feeds

BBC botnet 'public interest' defence rubbished by top IT lawyer

V for Vigilante

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

The BBC's argument that "public interest" justified its purchase and use of a botnet in a controversial experiment is little better than vigilantism, according to a top IT lawyer.

BBC Click bought a botnet of 22,000 compromised machines in order to send spam to webmail addresses it set up, and to launch a denial of service attack against a dummy website run by security firm PrevX, which advised on the exercise. BBC researchers then changed the wallpaper on compromised machines to alert victims that their machines were infected.

During the programme, broadcast last weekend, it was explained that the BBC had paid a premium to take control of compromised machines with IP addresses not located in the US or UK. By its own account, BBC Click paid crooks in Russia and the Ukraine thousands of dollars for this privilege.

The exercise, intended to illustrate cybercrime risks, has split security vendors. Many argue that the same issues could have been illustrated in the lab, without interfering with the PCs of innocent victims or sending spam. Kaspersky, AVG, McAfee, FaceTime, Sophos, Sunbelt Software and F-Secure have all come out in describing the exercise as various flavours of misguided, unnecessary and unethical.

But other vendors, including participant PrevX, argue that the experiment was justified in illustrating cybercrime risks more graphically than ever before. Comodo, Marshal8e6 and MessageLabs are also supportive of the BBC's approach.

Reg commentards are also divided, but with the majority favouring the BBC's stance. The BBC has firewalled our requests - made in response to its message on Twitter that it had cleared the exercise with its lawyers - for a fuller explanation as to how its experiment was legally and ethically above board.

However, complaints from Reg reader Stuart Gibson over the legality of the botnet caper elicited the following response.

It wasn't our intention to break the law but if there has been any breach we have done this because of the powerful public interest in demonstrating the ease with which such malware can be obtained and used; how it can be deployed on thousands of PCs without the owners even knowing it's there; and its power to send spam email or attack other websites undetected. This will help computer users realise the importance and value of using basic security techniques to defend their PCs from such attacks.

The 'Click' demonstration is featured in full in the programme, and further information is available on the BBC Click website. I can assure you we're ready to help the authorities with any inquiries arising from this report.

I've also registered your concerns about this report on our audience log. This is circulated widely within the BBC and made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.