Germany to launch antibotnet program for consumers

People can get support from both a Web site and a call center if the problem is bad enough

Germany will soon launch a service to help consumers remove malicious software from their computers in an attempt to stem the spread of spam-sending botnets.

The German Anti-Botnet Initiative, which has a budget of €2 million (US$2.7 million), is being funded by the Federal Ministry of the Interior. Technical support will come from the Federal Office for Information Security, known as BSI, and additional help from the Association of the German Internet Industry (Eco).

The initiative will launch on Sept. 15 at the 8th annual German Anti-spam Conference in Wiesbaden.

"The main goal is to remove Germany from the top 10 ranking of countries from which botnet activities originate," according to a document about the initiative published on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Web site.

Botnets are networks of infected computers that can be used by hackers to send spam, conduct distributed denial-of-service attacks and steal data. The networks have proven to be very robust, employing advanced technical means to keep them active despite attempts to shut them down.

ISPs around the world are experimenting with ways to deal with botnets and use automated systems to notify customers and block their Internet access until their computer is fixed. It is a burden for ISPs to deal with abuse complaints from other network providers, and automation can reduce the amount of manual work technicians must do.

Under the German plan, ISPs will identify computers on their networks that are infected and notify those customers by e-mail, phone, letter or text message.

They will then be directed to a central Web site that offers instructions and tools to clean their computers. If that doesn't work, their ISP will provide them with a trouble ticket that can be used to get help over the phone. The service is free, and users would only be charged the cost of a local call.

At least five ISPs have said they will participate. The help desk is scheduled to run at least a year after which Eco will "secure the continuation of the project to meet demands for another year," according to the paper. If the help desk is discontinued, the web site with instructions and tools will still be in service, it said.

"This is supposed to pull the rug underneath the feet of the botnets acting in or from Germany," said Katrin Mallener, Eco's spokeswoman.

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