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Kaspersky defends 'unworkable' web passports

Internet driving licence stuck in first gear

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Flamboyant anti-virus guru Eugene Kaspersky has defended his controversial internet passport plans.

Kaspersky, chief exec of malware exterminators Kaspersky Lab, first outlined plans to mandate use of a hardware token-based passport to get online around two years ago. The scheme is designed to deter abusive use of internet connections to send spam, steal data via hacking or participate in denial-of-service attacks. The programme would work in a similar way to how driving licences work in the offline world and would be applied alongside an Internet Interpol as a way of combatting the growing scourge of cybercrime.

"Everyone should and must have an identification, or internet passport," Kaspersky explained. "The internet was designed not for public use, but for American scientists and the US military. Then it was introduced to the public and it was wrong... to introduce it in the same way."

"I'd like to change the design of the internet by introducing regulation - internet passports, internet police and international agreement - about following internet standards. And if some countries don't agree with or don't pay attention to the agreement, just cut them off," the Russian security biz boss added.

Despite criticism, Kaspersky has continued to push the internet passport idea during his frequent trips to high-level government security conferences in Australia, Brussels and most recently to last week's London cyberspace conference. He is rarely challenged on even some of the more obvious downsides of the plan, which seeks to abolish net anonymity and seeks to prohibit use of services including The Onion Router (Tor), which is legitimately used by dissidents and civil rights activists around the world.

Critics, including Bruce Schneier, have torn into the internet passport scheme as unworkable and undesirable.

"Any design of the internet must allow for anonymity," Schneier argues in a lengthy and thorough examination of the idea.

"Universal identification is impossible. Even attribution - knowing who is responsible for particular internet packets - is impossible. Attempting to build such a system is futile, and will only give criminals and hackers new ways to hide.

"Attempts to banish anonymity from the internet won't affect those savvy enough to bypass it, would cost billions, and would have only a negligible effect on security," he concludes, adding that "mandating universal identity and attribution is the wrong goal".

El Reg put this criticism to Kaspersky hoping to secure a better explanation of his thinking. Instead we received a partial response that at least suggested he was open to further dialogue.

In his blog, Bruce Schneier has made some interesting and relevant arguments on the plan to create internet IDs. While I still maintain that this is a manageable solution, I respect Bruce's opinions and encourage the debate surrounding this important and emotive subject.

Schneier is by no means alone in his criticism. Other detractors of the internet passport scheme include security blogger Dancho Danchev, who outlined five reasons why the proposal is bad news in a post on Zdnet's Zero Day blog here. He points out that use of two-factor authentication is no defence against man-in-the-middle attacks as well as the cost and logistical problem involved in giving everyone "internet passports".

In fairness, Kaspersky is far from alone in supporting the scheme, despite its potential difficulties. Other backers of the "driver's licence for the internet" idea include Microsoft's Craig Mundie. ®

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