[linux-elitists] Re: MCI boots send-safe (Register) -- adds a net of 11 more spam hosts

Karsten M. Self kmself@ix.netcom.com
Thu Mar 3 14:24:55 PST 2005


on Thu, Mar 03, 2005 at 12:05:48PM -0500, Aaron Sherman (ajs@ajs.com) wrote:
> On Wed, 2005-03-02 at 23:52, Karsten M. Self wrote:
> > on Wed, Mar 02, 2005 at 06:16:38PM -0500, Aaron Sherman (ajs@ajs.com) wrote:
> 
> > > Ok, I won't speak for Nick, but here's why I get all flustered about
> > > this kind of thing: I have this nervous tick that forces me to imagine
> > > how every "victory" in the war against X (drugs, spam, terrorism, you
> > > name it) will, in turn, be used against me in future.
> > 
> [...]
> > I believe in a _balance_ of powers, a weighting on _merits_, and an
> > avoidance of _extremes_.  Large low-entropy pools are inherently
> > dangerous.
> 
> Interesting. I would not have thought to phrase it that way, but it's a
> fair point.

Thank you.

 
> > _Those_ are the particulars of _this_ case.
> 
> Yep, and I'm glad they've been booted, and I was over-reacting as a
> result of a mis-reading. However, I defend the reaction in that, had the
> root servers (or some subset) taken such unilateral action, I think it
> would have been wildly inappropriate and would have set a frightening
> precedent.

The root servers situation is interesting and unclear.  I haven't been
referring to it.

That said:  if someone thumbs their nose at the world sufficiently long
and hard, they shouldn't be too suprised to find the world thumbing
back.  Unconstrained, this does lead to breakdowns and opportunities for
abuse (Joe-jobs, reputation trashing).  I can't deny feeling a sense of
karmic justice, however.

 
> I know you may have come away from the previous discussion with the
> sense that I have a desire to defend send-safe, but I assure you that
> nothing could be farther from the truth. My feeling on the MCI policy
> issue is that, worst-case, they should have amended their rules,
> refunded send-safe's money and terminated the contract long ago.

s/refunded.*money//

...particulary in the face of an AUP denying network abuse, spamming,
etc.  Send-safe were likely skating under the rules and were taking an
overt business risk in doing so.

 
> I do want to point out, though, that this means financial hardship for
> MCI, 

...my heart bleeds....

> which implies that some other company is going to be able to step
> in to this market and make money by supporting the send-safes of the
> world... get ready for the next phase of spam growth: the large,
> international corporation that owns several ISPs and is entirely willing
> to mix large pools of legitimate users, servers and networks in with
> their spam services. 

Welcome to 1999, Aaron.

Large ISPs have been doing this for years.  Its one of the direct
motives behind SPEWS.  While emission-specific blocklists (SBL/XBL,
SpamCop, etc.) track spam by source:

    SPEWS maintains a list of known spam sources and spam friendly hosts
    so that e-mail can be rejected from these problem sites.
    http://www.spews.org/

Track NANAE for a week and you'll see a litany of sob stories:  "my IP
is blocked by SPEWS, please delist me".  No, your _hosting provider_ is
listed by SPEWS.  _They_ need to clean up their act.


> You're going to NEED a real reputation system sometime soon, or spam
> WILL become even more unmanageable than it is today.

If you think IPV4 is bad, try IPV6.

That's among the reasons I'm strongly promoting ASN/CIDR tracking:  IPV6
aggregates that much more.  Still, it's going to be problematic.

There's the corrolary aspect that ever more traffic is going to be IP
based.  Currently it's email, web services, chat, and the like.  Moving
forward, it's going to be phone, IM, SMS, and more.

What do you think the mean time between rings for, say, a high-score
socioeconomic class areacode (202, 212, 415, 650, 312, 818) will be
where long distance is free and Choicepoint household data floats freely
on the Dark Net?  And you _don't_ have realtime content/context data to
filter in realtime audio.

As for reputation systems:  yeah, look at Senderbase / Iron Mountain.  I
see big things for them, particularly if they've got _any_ brains.


 
> > > What if the complaints start originating from the MPAA or the US
> > > government or the IMF or spammers?
> > 
> > I don't particularly care where a complaint originates from.  I _do_
> > care that the complaint is legitimate and valid.
> 
> Also fair. I wonder though who writes the spec on those two terms?

How about we judge based on community outrage ;-)

 
> > > We're forcing them to evolve or die... what happens when that
> > > evolution involves buying a very large ISP? Do we shut off half
> > > the world or come up with a better plan?
> > 
> > Do you connect your sewer mains to your spigots or your drains,
> > Aaron?  That's really a no-brainer.
> 
> > So yes:  if a large portion of the Net turns black, well, it turns
> > black more ways than one.
> 
> Your points about ASN/CIDR identification are good, but this last
> statement bothers me. Plus, IPs are a poor metric. As we all know they
> are ephemeral.

I've had this discussion in the past week.

IP ownership is ephemeral, particularly in dialup / dynamic access.

ASN assignment is markedly less so, though they also change over time.  

What's markedly _less_ ephemeral are private blocklists.  Remember, the
public DNSBLs are just the visible tip of the iceberg.  Private,
site-specific lists, and dark lists, passed among friends and
associates, but not made generally public, are legion.  I used one such,
with 65K+ domains, as part of my web content filtering for a youth
center tech lab.

Getting on and off public DNSBLs is _relatively_ sane.  The lists have
to be accountable to their users, and not violate either stated policy
or useful effects too greatly, or they lose following.  Within a private
site, both usage patterns and propriety mean that once on, getting off a
list is at best iffy.

The result is that network abuse leads to a continuous erosion of useful
IPs.  Rotating abusive activity through a large block merely
accelerates that process *and* provides a useful behavioral pattern
identifying black-hat providers.

 
> We *NEED* a reputation system that's based on strong encryption. 

Encryption without authentication _and_ reputation data is useless.

The response time of such a system may be infeasible.

And systems with weak authentication may work well:  honeypots, web
content, and other abuse monitors identifying specific IPs of interest.
A watch that extends to a sensible range (say, a /24 initially, broader
based on other heuristics).  Local management of such lists means that
defenses are continuously adapted to conditions.  Hardwired whitelists
for criticial contacts to avoid friendly fire losses.  Hard-fail
conditions to provide feedback to those who are inadvertantly blocked.

It's not an ideal system.  It's probably a 95% solution.  And it doesn't
rely on encryption at all.

Sure:  encryption and PKI are useful.  I use and advocate their use.
Uptake remains limited.  And in large-volume processing, it's expensive.

That said:  opportunistic authentication _should_ be used and favored
where it exists.

> We have all of the tools (SMTP/TLS + CAs + DNS), we just need a single
> protocol that at least a few large players agree to use that connects
> them. Once that's in place, we could END spam. 

Yeah, sure.  You want to split the profits?

Since when do you trust CAs to identify nonspammers?  What's this
protocol you're talking about?  How does it extend past email to _other_
forms of abuse?  I see a handwave and "Profit!".  I don't see a workable
system yet.  Care to expand?


> Sure, there would be trade in stolen keys, but a decent system would
> adapt (via the same mechanisms as DNSBLs) and repair quickly enough
> that using a key would result in a return on investment insufficient
> to warrant the effort in stealing it.

Y'know, key repudiation _remains_ one of the weak points of current PKI.
And the number of SSL sites lacking valid, authoritative, or other than
non-self-signed keys is large.  Plus the whole level of intermediation
through browsers leads to _many_ user education issues.
 
> New players who want to establish a rep would have to be "introduced" or
> suffer most of their mail being black-holed until a sufficient
> reputation had been established (perhaps years)

How long does it take you to make friends?

How long does it take you to _really_ trust someone?

If there's such a reputation system, I'd like it to offer two features:

  - Love at first sight:  the ability to decide, quickly, that yes, you
    pretty much do trust someone rather highly.

  - Disowning:  Ok, so you've changed your mind (or have sufficient
    experience that you really ought to) about this relationship.  Can
    you get a divorce?

When I designed the K5 moderation and mojo systems, I built in two
features:

  - Moderation should quickly reflect initial experiences.  The first
    moderation counts most.  Subsequent mods _can_ change the overall
    score, but it takes a lot of 'em to do much shifting.  After a time,
    the message moderation tends to stabilize.

  - Mojo should weight recent activity.  If someone's been long-term
    trustworthy, but suddenly gets all wiggly, three-year-old rep
    _really_ shouldn't count that much. 
    


> but let's face it: if you're deploying your own mail server then one
> of the following is going to be true:
> 
>       * Your up-stream ISP approves and will vouch for you as a customer
>         who is under certain contractual obligations (not a guarantee of
>         validity, but a starting point)
>       * You know someone who trusts you and is willing to sign your key
>         (risking their own reputation).
>       * You are sending to a fair number of specific individuals who
>         will white-list you, slowly building your reputation.

Under the scheme I envision, your relationship _largely_ is of concern
to those with whom you're doing business.

Basically:  behave yourself the first time you come around.  Eventually,
you'll be considered a member of the family.  Or at least given a
neighborly greeting.

Fortunately, most spammers currently exhibit such flagrant disregard for
_any_ social niceties that you can write them off quickly.
 
> Built properly, such a system would account for differing "opinions"
> (e.g. many small businessmen in Russia seem to trust each other, even
> though the rest of the world thinks they're evil... that's fine, they
> have their view, we have ours). This is easily accomplished by doing
> roughly what DNSBLs do: centering each origin of trust on a domain name,
> and allowing any domain name to originate a new root of trust at any
> time.

Sounds complicated and my brain's not wrapping around this well ATM.

There is the fundamental problem of trust transitivity.  OTOH, if you
use a weighting system in which you simply _correlate_ others' opinions
with your own, you don't have to worry about agreement, you only need
concern yourself with predictive value.  That chap with whom you have
_no_ common tastes is a perfect predictor:  corrolation is -1.  The
useless data is the person with whom you're aligned half the time,
corrolation 0.

Authentication here is useful in that you're reasonably assured that the
reputation is the one you think it is.  Beyond that, you don't really
need to trust it.
 
> Nice things about this system are: the SPF problem goes away. You don't
> care who initially started the chain, only who delivered it to your
> front door. They have the power to vouch for bad-guys, but it will nuke
> their rep. Your own relays would have a level of trust that puts your
> central delivery host into a slave mode, so no reputation updates would
> be performed (preventing your central MTA from harming your relay's
> reputation when it passes you spam, and also reducing overhead).

Right.

I think I get at this somewhat more trivially with a proportionate
rejection scheme:

  - Accept the first mail from a new source.

  - Rank that mail for spamminess.

  - Rinse, wash, repeat for some reasonable sample, over some aggregated
    netblock.  You're going to find you're getting some proportion of
    spam vs. ham for that block.
    
  - Toss in curves for behavior:  is the peer doing a dictionary attack
    on your space?  Do they ignore temporary rejects, or not follow
    traditional retry intervals?  Score goes down.

  - Based on the ratio of spam/ham coming from the site, at whatever
    granularity gives you a good statistical sample, say 10-30 datapoints
    per defined time period, where a week to a month should be more than
    sufficient, issue your own randomly assigned accept / reject
    responses.

  - Season to taste.

 
> This might be rocket science, but it's not HARD rocket science.

To the contrary, it's cooking with spam.


Peace.

-- 
Karsten M. Self <kmself@ix.netcom.com>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
   A guide to GNU/Linux backups:
     http://kmself.home.netcom.com/Linux/FAQs/backups.html
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