BBC botnet hijack proves controversial

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Mar 12, 2009

Legal issues raised by broadcaster's demo of spamming, DDoS, cleanup attempt.

A BBC report into the dangers of botnets has got the corporation into hot water, after reporters took control of a cluster of hijacked systems, used them to demonstrate the ability to send spam and launch denial of service attacks, and then adjusted infected computers to warn the owners of their imperilled status.

The reporters found the botnet being made available on a hacker forum, sent spam only to test addresses and launched their DDoS attack on a test site run by security firm PrevX, with the company's permission. Messages were then left in the form of screensavers, advising the owners of the infected systems on how to ensure proper cleanup.

However, the activities have been widely criticised and may fall foul of computer misuse laws, some claim. Though the BBC insists its reporters acted within the law, as no criminal intent was shown, the mere act of causing a computer owned by someone else to perform an action, such as sending mails, appears to be barred under UK law, while actively changing settings on it - in the form of adding the screensaver - has been seen by many as deliberate interference.

The controversial BBC report is online here, with details of the growing controversy in The Register here and blog comment from Sophos' Graham Cluley here.

Posted on 12 March 2009 by Virus Bulletin



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