Finding ways to limit DoS attacks and SMS spam by making it harder to spoof the origin of electronic communications is on the agenda at a telecommunications standards meeting next week -- but civil rights advocates worry it could put an end to anonymity on the Internet.
Making it possible to trace the origin of all Internet traffic "raises grave concerns in terms of facilitating government repression," said Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "I'm skeptical of the claimed benefits for security."
At a meeting of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva this week, telecoms experts will discuss draft recommendation X.tb-ucr, Trace back use case and requirements, looking at ways to identify the source of packets sent across IP (Internet Protocol) networks.
"Knowing the source of traffic is essential for settlements and infrastructure protection, and more recently for preventing attacks on the network," said Tony Rutkowski, one of the members of the ITU working party on telecommunication security and also vice president for regulatory affairs and standards at Verisign.
Packets on IP networks are marked with the address of their source and destination. As the packets hop from router to router to reach their destination, routers make no note of where they came from. If the source address indicated on packets is spoofed, or fake, then there is no easy way to find out who is originating the traffic.
That's not necessarily a problem, unless the traffic is causing a nuisance, as is the case during a DoS (denial of service) attack on a server, for instance.
At one stage, said Rutkowski, around 10 percent of the requests reaching Verisign's DNS (Domain Name Servers) were from people trying to conduct DOS attacks. "We used to have our own traceback capability," he said.
At telcos, the CFO wants to know where that Internet traffic is coming from too. Carriers are seeing more SMS (Short Message Service) and VOIP (voice over IP) traffic from Internet gateways, and they have a right to charge the originators for delivering it. When the source of this traffic is concealed or spoofed, they don't know whom to bill. Such phantom traffic could be costing network operators hundreds of millions of dollars a year, Rutkowski said.