Homeland Security official suggests outlawing rootkits

With mishaps like the Sony BMG fiasco, outlawing rootkits might be the way to go, a Homeland Security official suggests.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Perhaps the best way to deal with rootkits is to outlaw them.

At least when it comes to such mishaps as the Sony BMG Music Entertainment fiasco, that's what an official from the Department of Homeland Security suggested Thursday.

"The recent Sony experience shows us that we need to be thinking about how we ensure that consumers are not surprised by what their software programs do," Jonathan Frenkel, director of law enforcement policy at the U.S Department of Homeland Security said in a speech here at the RSA Conference 2006.

A lesson has been learned from the Sony debacle, which left unwitting consumers with software on their PCs that could be used by cyberattackers to hide their malicious code. "Companies now know that they should not surreptitiously install a rootkit on computers," Frenkel said.

But perhaps more importantly, how could the mishap have been avoided in the first place? "Legislation or regulation may not be a solution in all cases, but it may be warranted in appropriate circumstances," Frenkel said.

Last November, Sony was found to be shipping copy-protected compact discs that planted so-called rootkit software on the computers that played them. The rootkit technology offered a hiding place for malicious software and attackers, which were quick to exploit it.

After the rootkit technology was uncovered on Sony's CDs, the company faced heavy criticism and lawsuits. It recalled the discs, stopped production and has agreed to offer compensation for buyers of the CDs that contain the rootkit.

Since the Sony case, other companies have been accused of shipping products with rootkit-type behavior. Symantec last month released an update to its popular Norton SystemWorks to fix a security problem that could be abused by cybercriminals to hide malicious software.

According to F-Secure, a Finnish antivirus vendor, the German DVD release of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," contains a digital rights management protection tool that uses rootkit-like cloaking technology. The movie is distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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