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Microsoft's tax-for-hacks 'horrible' idea, say security experts

Suggestion that Internet users pay tax to fight malware, botnets gets thumbs down

March 5, 2010 06:59 AM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft's idea that the fight against malware could be funded by an Internet tax is "horrible," an analyst said Thursday as other experts weighed in on a recent comment by the company's security chief.

Earlier this week, Scott Charney, Microsoft's vice president for its Trustworthy Computing group, said that while there are plenty of ways to combat malware, scrub infected PCs and take down botnets, no one wanted to foot the bill.

"Maybe markets will make it work," Charney said, but then added that an Internet usage tax might be the solution. "You could say it's a public safety issue and do it with general taxation," Charney said.

"The idea of a general Net tax is a horrible idea," said John Pescatore, Gartner's security analyst. "Why not a tax on all retail goods for a standard antishoplifting service all merchants would have to use?" A business, he said, can now select what it thinks is the best anti-malware solution, but that choice would presumably vanish if funding for battling the bad guys went national.

"A general tax would reduce the services to the lowest common denominator," Pescatore contended.

Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer at security company Qualys, agreed. "I have a hard time seeing [a tax] work. The Internet is an international body; you can't regulate it, and you cannot levy a tax. ISPs might have to up their fees to pay for something like this, I can see that, but a tax that brings government into play -- I can't see that."

Others who disagreed with Charney's proposed Net tax argued that Web users would end up paying, tax or no tax, to fight hackers.

"A tax may be a bad idea, but people will pay for it one way or another," said Randy Abrams, director of technical education at ESET Security, ticking off higher ISP fees or, if not that, then the lack of any price cuts by ISPs as the inevitable consequences of such anti-malware efforts.

Some security pros questioned not only the concept, but also the mechanics of a taxation-for-mitigation scheme.

"I don't have a problem with charging a fee and giving it to good works for the whole," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security. "The problem is that one, you have to find a big, smart and trustworthy organization to handle this. And most people will agree that's not the government, and that's not Microsoft."

More likely, suggested Storms, is that an ISP will take the plunge, charge its users a little extra to keep their machines clean, and prove that it's possible. "Then I could see a consortium of ISPs getting together to do that," he said.

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