Thursday at the RSA Conference

Hackers are clever, and they’ll find a way to exploit almost anything. One example of this is how they’ve learned to use blogs to distribute spam and other malware. But for every hacker finding a new way to carry out attacks, there’s apparently a security vendor coming up with a response. At the RSA Conference this week, I saw some interesting demos of the counters that security vendors have created to the problem of hackers using blogs to help them carry out attacks.

In most cases, spam email outnumbers legitimate email by a huge margin. This seems to be true with comments that are posted to blogs also. If I go to the management console for this blog, for example, I now see over 3,400 attempts by spammers to get this blog to link their sites that claim to be selling interesting products, but are probably just trying to collect sensitive personal information. Looking through a queue of over 3,400 items just isn’t feasible, but security vendor Websense has a product that will do this for you, and in most cases, they’ll actually do this for free.

This product is Defensio, and I saw a demo of it at the RSA Conference yesterday. Websense claims to have sophisticated adaptive algorithms that let their technology adapt to the efforts of spammers to bypass their filtering. That’s not the sort of thing that’s easy to show in a demo, so I’ll have to trust that this really happens behind the scenes.

Defensio works by routing potential malicious posts through Defensio’s servers, which make a decision about whether or not the post is spam. This architecture also lets Defensio identify and react to new attacks on blogs as they’re developed and used by hackers. I seem to recall that anti-virus products worked this way at one time, but anti-virus vendors seem to have now discarded this model. It will be interesting to see if this also happens to Defensio’s technology in the future.

Unfortunately, Defensio is only available for blogs that are hosted by WordPress. This blog uses TypePad, which means that I can’t actually try it and see how well it works in practice.

In addition to blogs, it seems that newer social networking services like Twitter have already been abused by hackers. Twitter users are already receiving spam (twam?), and if you follow the Twitter user @spam, you’ll see updates on how this spam is happening, who it’s coming from, etc. You might even find it amusing that when you visit the Twitter page for the user @spam, you see the message “Hey there! spam is using Twitter.”

Maybe there’s a start-up out there right now that’s figuring out a way to keep Twitter uncluttered. I’ll have to look for this at next year’s RSA Conference.

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